By JASON SMITH
From John Lennon to Neil Young to Death Cab for Cutie, all sorts of band associations are sure to come to mind while listening to the debut, self-titled album from folk super group, Monsters of Folk, which consists of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), M. Ward (She & Him), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and producer Mike Mogis.
The album begins slowly with the odd, techno-folk-inspired “Dear God.” Although, for a first track, the song may not be most representative of the band’s talents, it doesn’t entirely disappoint. From there, the album moves into the more upbeat “Say Please,” before jumping into the 60’s-inspired “Whole Lotta Losin’.”
“The Man Named Truth” and “Baby Boomer” showcase the country influences of the band while “Ahead of the Curve” and “Losin Yo Head” have stronger rock riffs with the melancholy “Slow Down Joe” thrown in for a nice contrast. The final songs of the album end the album on a soft, folky note, which is very compelling at times, but somewhat musically uninteresting.
Monsters of Folk offer an interesting debut from the folk super group. Usually projects of this sort do not live up to expectations because musical egos tend to prevent a successful completion of this kind. However, Monsters of Folk appear to provide a somewhat cohesive, shared effort with each contributor donating equally to the vocals throughout the album without one style completely dominating the others. Yet the album still has songs like “Temazul” which do not flow with the other tracks.
On the other hand, “Magic Maker” and “Map of the World” provide a colorful warm-up to the exceptionally composed “Sandman, the Brakeman, and Me,” which contains hypnotic lyrics like, “This has to be the slowest train that I have ever seen / and the Sandman’s waiting to be lowered in my dream.” The album closes on a disappointing note with the unimpressive finale “His Master’s Voice.”
Overall, the debut album from Monsters of Folk is less than impressive. While some songs such as “Ahead of the Curve” and “Slow Down Joe” provide fresh, innovative songs fusing aspects of folk, country and rock together with new-age sounds, some of the songs like “Dear God,” “Temazul” and “His Master’s Voice” can be difficult to listen to in their entirety.
Monsters of Folk make a valiant attempt at the super group concept, occasionally showing signs of promise, but ultimately, not enough songs on the album are of equal quality to commend this as a crowning achievement. Perhaps, after spending some time honing their individual talents into a group sound, Monsters of Folk’s second effort will provide a more cohesive album that does not appear musically disjointed.