Monsters of Folk, photograph c/o Glide Magazine.
The name alone sounds like a pretty big claim to back up, or, with enough creative license, a really strange 60's era horror movie. In actuality it's a contingent of 4 of the most talented and well known folk, I guess you'd say "rockers" though that sounds kind of like a serious oxymoron, in music today forming the largest super group Indie Rock has probably yet to see. Getting their moniker from the tour of the same name that the four played together on in 2004, the M.O.F. are Connor Oberst, formerly of indie darling Bright Eyes fame, rustic raconteur M. Ward, My Morning Jacket's guitar mad man and vocal criminal Jim James and Mike Mogis. Yet, the question in the minds and hearts of the kids collecting Bob Dylan records and wearing cardigans everywhere is this: is it any good?
Luckily, for all of us, the answer is a resounding "yes". With each songwriter bringing their own unique and specific style to the table, there was definitely a fear that the record would sound too cluttered or inconsistent. Bright Eyes carried Conor Oberst's almost trade marked shaky voice and angst drenched lyrics, while Jim James' own falsetto vocals and guitar progressions gave My Morning Jacket a sound almost unheard of by their modern contemporaries. Instead, what the listener comes to find is a wall of sound that combines each members unique gifts, and more surprisingly, real harmonizing. That's right, right when harmonies and actual guitar solo's are starting to come back (think Fleet Foxes and Dan Auerbach respectively), the Monsters Of Folk hit the ground running with them. Imagine a young boy playing baseball alone in a field. This could be a beautiful picture of loneliness and sadness, a story waiting to be told about why this child is out without a father to teach him to play, or a friend in the world to share the experience. Yet, with enough players, you can actually play the game. That's what this instead sounds like. A whole greater than the sum of it's parts that makes it seem like this is how it was meant to be.
The first single, the almost classic rock anthem Say Yes, showcases this perfectly. Like most song's on this album, the song is hardly categorized as any kind of actual folk, yet that's maybe why the song works so well. Showcasing Oberst and Ward's voices working off each other, one after another, the song creates instead of a clutter a rollicking jam that celebrates each musicians styles as well as it does the song's sing a long chorus. From here, hits like Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.) and The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me take the idea out of the theater on into the home. Only on hits like Temazcal, an Oberst tune, and James' spiritual His Master's Call, can you find tracks that seem to stray and could be found at home on the writer's original bands.
That then might be the album's, and the artists who came together to create it, greatest strength; that despite their own styles being so different, they were able to come together and create an album that, while blending all their personalities and tastes, feels less like a series of solo songs and more like an organic jam between friends sharing ideas on a back porch somewhere. An alternative take on classic rock made by an alternative take on the classic rock group, shows that maybe sometimes too much is just enough.
Monsters of Folk, Photograph C/Odirectcurrentmusic.com