Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monsters of Folk- s/t

    Man, supergroups really blow. In recent memory, Them Crooked Vultures’ debut was godawful. It’s an unfortunate condition of the music industry that these things happen to sell. But even in the direst of straights, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. This just so happens to be Monsters of Folk, the “supergroup” which holds She & Him’s M. Ward, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis and Conor Obert in its employ. As the name suggests, this is a folk outing; a chance for these four luminaries to try on the shoes of their heroes and walk fifteen tracks.

    Now, supergroup or not, it’s a common pitfall that one man’s ego stands figurehead for an entire band, usually resulting in fights, substance abuse, disbandments, and revenge sex. Monsters of Folk do the unthinkable and actually collaborate. Each song on here is clearly a group effort, despite the wildly different styles of their homebase bands, while still having a few songs which showcase one artist’s style more. And amongst the call and response gospel and Bob Dylan play-by-numbers tracks, there is an everpresent sense that these guys really enjoy what they’ve set out to do, especially when trading verses on “Say Please”, which is one synth part short of a folksy slow dance.

    Depending on your taste, this album will have something for you. The surf and muscle cars vibe of “Whole Lotta Losin’” (which is essentially a fuzz Beach Boys rip-off) with its fun-in-the-sun harmony and one note piano is easily countered with nautical bluegrass tune, “Man Named Truth”. Oberst truly shines on “Temazcal” and “Map of the World”, which should be enough to rope in any curious Bright Eyes fans, and the infectiously melancholy riff on “Ahead of the Curve” could entice even a die-hard metalhead.

    While this record is essentially four guys getting to shamelessly play the styles that influenced them, they can’t help but plant their own stamp on top of the mix. This self-titled release never reduces itself to aping or parody. It’s just honest songwriting from the American heartland, which has the good sense to look back at its roots and also let new branches flourish. A respectable, albeit sometimes bland affair, Monsters of Folk is a record that sinks in fully with time. If another release from these four guys is ever on the horizon, expect greatness.

Monsters of Folk

No comments:

Post a Comment