monsters of folk – monsters of folk 2009

When M. Ward, Mike Mogis, Jim James, and Conor Oberst announced plans to record together, fans were quick to link the supergroup to the Traveling Wilburys, who blazed a similarly star-studded path 20 years prior. Truth be told, Monsters of Folk’s emphasis on harmony vocals and atmospheric arrangements has just as much in common with the work of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, even if the political concerns that grounded the latter group are largely absent here. Instead, the self-titled MONSTERS OF FOLK tackles religion, nature, love, and lust, with all four songwriters sharing vocals and songwriting duties. Mogis, who rose to prominence by playing a central but somewhat surreptitious role in Bright Eyes, receives slightly less screen time than the others, preferring instead to remain behind the scenes as producer and sideman. Even so, his guitar solo during “Say Please” is one of the album’s loudest, rawest moments, and his production helps draw connections between the album’s slew of songwriting styles and genres. “Folk” is defined broadly here, as the album encompasses everything from trip-hop to roots-rock to homely, homespun pop. Spread over fifteen tracks, the combination wears thin at several points, and several songs feel more like their creator’s solo work than a composite product. MONSTERS OF FOLK has moments on undeniable beauty, though, and when the musicians pitch their voices atop one another–as they do to notable effect on the gorgeous “Slow Down Jo”–the benefits of teamwork are more than clear.

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