Monsters of Folk
Monsters of Folk / self-titled
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2009, Volume 16, #10
Written by John Metzger
Thu October 15, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
The name itself is a travesty. After all, Monsters of Folk sounds like one of Jack Blackís bizarre parodies, and it isnít even an accurate description of the groupís output. Fortunately, the music on the ensembleís self-titled debut is spectacular enough to make such quibbles moot.
For those who donít know, Monsters of Folk is a modern-day supergroup of sorts that features M. Ward and My Morning Jacketís Jim James as well as Bright Eyesí Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, all of whom have been involved in making some of the finest indie-rock efforts of the past decade. These guys have always had grand ambitions. At the same time, though, they also have never failed to honor the past, even as they bent, twisted, and pushed it forward. Still, thereís something to be said for the communal spirit that fuels the collectiveís debut, especially since their chemistry is so perfect.
Sure enough, the members of Monsters of Folk magnify their strengths, while mitigating their weaknesses. Although each of their familiar touchstones reverberate throughout the endeavor, there also are moments when an individual songwriter is affected by the gravitational pull of his collaborators. Oberst, James, Mogis, and Ward repeatedly swap roles and trade lyrics, and this give-and-take among the musicians keeps the material from feeling overly predictable.
In many ways, Monsters of Folk is the current generationís rendition of the Traveling Wilburys. Oberst, Mogis, James, and Ward know it, too. Numerous nods to Monsters of Folkís predecessors are scattered throughout its eponymous endeavor. On tracks like Say Please and Whole Lotta Losiní, rather than running away from the obvious comparisons, the quartet fully embraces them.
Nevertheless, Monsters of Folk also works with a broader spectrum of colors. Midway through the outing, the ensemble settles quite comfortably into a sequence of songs (Baby Boomer, Man Named Truth, and Goodway) that draws directly from the shimmering, folk-pop brilliance that Simon & Garfunkel outlined on Bookends. The group swerves from showcasing its Beach Boys-aspiring ambition (Slow Down Jo) to the Crazy Horse-laced, Big Star-imbued moments of Losiní Yo Head. Elsewhere, Monsters of Folk just as effortlessly tosses off Stones-y country-blues tunes (The Right Place) and soulful trip-hop meditations on the state of the world (Dear God [Sincerely M.O.F.]).
Supergroups, such as Monsters of Folk, too often devolve into games of one-upmanship. Surprisingly, James, Oberst, Mogis, and Ward manage to avoid succumbing to their egos. Instead, they push and prod each other in a friendly fashion, and the result is an album that is so unpretentious and unforced that it also is eminently enjoyable.
Of Further Interest...
Monsters of Folk is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box