Monsters of Folk, a supergroup of indie folk luminaries, are a lot gentler than their paradox of a name implies. Its debut album, streaming on MySpace this past week, is due out September 22.
MoF comprises Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward of She & Him and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, the least hairy of the clan.
Unlike a lot of other supergroups that sprung up in the past few years, Monsters of Folk is a natural gathering of similarly talented artists. Tinted Windows amalgamated members of Smashing Pumpkins, Hanson, Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne. Them Crooked Vultures fused Dave Grohl with John Paul Jones and the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist. These were unnecessary albeit ambitious attempts at creating an all-star music crew to rival those of the past. Monsters of Folk, on the other hand, actually makes sense.
Though in a few general ways the band members are homogenous, together they traipse into all kinds of sounds and styles. For an album compiled in the name of folk and Americana, the eclectic production quality is apparent throughout, via drum machines, synth and fuzz guitar.
The opener and single, “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)” welcomes you with trip-hop synths and drum breaks courtesy of Jim James and his soaring voice.
Without a doubt, there’s a Traveling Wilburys unity that precludes this chill session, which also indicates that this is neither of the participants’ finest work. “Say Please” is the most characteristic of this symptom. Repeated lyrics like “Hold out your hand” share the artistic simplicity of a post-Beatles pop tune. Yim Yames would approve of the comparison.
The individuality of each performer is respected and represented fairly yet their attempts to sing in unison don’t make a huge impression. If you’re a fan of only one of the singers, you won’t be disappointed. But, for the most part, each of the artists has overlapping fanbases due to the fact they’re in the same music scene and are all at the top of such a food chain.
At times on “Say Please” and “Baby Boomer,” singers Ward, Oberst and James switch off nearly every line as they ostensibly play Hot Tamales with the microphone. “Say Please” features strong solo work from Oberst with accompanying guitar.
“Whole Lotta Losin’,” a fast tempo alt-country rocker, and “Losing Yo Head,” a buoyant Southern jaunt, capture the band’s vitality and spirit. Meanwhile, folk tunes, “The Map of the World” and “Man Named Truth” harness the soul. The group harmonies in “The Map of the World” are so Fleet Foxes, haunting and woodsy.
“Slow Down Jo,” evoking imagery of cigarette smoke and coffee steam, takes it easy and slow. “His Master’s Voice,” the album closer, has passionate and moving piano and displays some of James’ best vocals on the record.
Based on this debut, Monsters of Folk are an altogether successful star-studded quartet. Through soulful harmonies, inventive instrumentation and sharp songwriting of which they’re known for, the collective of musicians demonstrate their versatility in choreographing a melodic, flavorful assortment of indie folk rock.
Download: "His Master's Voice," “Whole Lotta Losin’"
Hipness rating: 9 out of 10
Actual rating: 7 out of 10