Monsters of Folk by Monsters of Folk

The term "super group" seems to be thrown around a lot, especially as of late. And more often than not, they end up being a disappointment; a group of big name musicians banding together, then falling far short than the sum of its parts. Maybe the group members just don't "click", maybe the arrangement leaves something to be desired, but it's almost gotten to the point where "super group" is no longer a draw, but a buzz word. Maybe that's why most super groups now have the customary "don't call us a 'super group'" statement.
So when Jim James (of My Morning Jacket, using his alter ego Yim Yames), M. Ward (of She & Him and, uh, M. Ward) and Conor Oberst & Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes) joined forces for Monsters of Folk, I was more than a bit skeptical. Especially since I love My Morning Jacket so much, but especially because I have never really cared for Bright Eyes. Sure, these artists all have similar musical backgrounds, but they are all distinct enough that you might not expect them to mix.

The self titled album starts out with "Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)", which features each member taking parts of the song solo, which is the only time on the album you'll hear a division of their voices this blatant. First single "Say Please" sees Oberst up front in a catchy and upbeat tune, and the first time you hear them all together, any and all worries you may have had just melt away. Each song features either Ward, Oberst or Yames as lead vocals and the other two as backup vocals (Mogis sticks behind the scenes, as it were), and Ward's first track is the infectious alt-country "Whole Lotta Losin'". Oberst's "Temazcal" brings it down a with a song that lives up to its name, but things pick right back up a little with the jaunty "The Right Place", Yames' first "spotlight" song, and Ward's "Baby Boomer", a song that is nigh-impossible not to clap along to. One of my favourites off the album is, surprisingly, an Oberst song: "Man Named Truth", another fast paced and catchy song. "Goodway" is probably the most Ward influenced, though could have done without Oberst doing the spoken word outro, however he redeems himself with "Ahead of the Curve", a rich song which, again, features a great blending of vocals. Which is then almost perfected in Ward's gorgeous "Slow Down Jo". "Losin' Yo' Head" with its energetic country-funk, is the most blatantly Yames song, but then he brings it back down for the mellow "Magic Marker". "Map of the World" is another surprisingly good Oberst song -- not to pick on him or anything, but as I said, I was never really an Oberst fan prior to this album. "The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me" is Ward's great climax which finally perfects the harmonies. The perfected blend of vocals go on to end the album excellently with "His Master's Voice" -- featuring Yames, in a nice bit of symmetry.

The thing I love most about Monsters of Folk is how they all trade off duties. No one member does a specific job for the whole album, but rather everyone does everything at various times. It creates a more eclectic sound, rather than just being something like "Oh, drummer from band-x is playing with guitarist from band-y". Everything seems to flow much more naturally. There are still definitely influences from each band in the tracks, but their various sounds end up blending together so perfectly that it seems more like a band that has been together for years rather than a first-time collaboration.
And I touched on it briefly, but perhaps the most amazing thing this album does is to turn my complete and total apathy of Conor Oberst into somewhat of a liking. I am probably not going to run out and get all the Bright Eyes and Mystic Valley Band I can get my hands on, but I certainly like the man more than I previously did.

Download Man Named Truth

Download Slow Down Jo

Download His Master's Voice

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