Something strange happened to me when I put the debut from the so
called "super group" known as Monsters Of Folk in
my car's cd player. Considering I am not a full fledged - or even
a passing fan - of any of the individual members' musical projects
(the group is comprised of Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst,
My Morning Jacket's Jim James, She And Him's
M. Ward and Bright Eyes' producer/ multi-instrumentalist Mike
Mogis), I expected to put the record on and be bombarded by self-indulgent
wanking from today's kings of the alternative (I use this term VERY
loosely) "folk" scene.
Yes, I will admit that all these players have their high points ("When
The President Talks To God" from Bright Eyes is right up their
with Dylan's "A Hard Rain A' Gonna Fall" on my hell
yeah list) but on "Monsters" it's clear to me that these
fellas are better as a group than individually; it should be apparent
to even the casual listener that each man was forced to bring their
A+ game, and thank god they did.
Now, I'm not saying these songs are on the same level of what The
Traveling Wilburys did in the late 1980's or what Dylan managed
with The Band as his backup, but a few of the songs here are
close. Yes, some of the tunes here are lackluster ("Slow Down
Jo", "The Right Place") but these two or three songs
that I can single out are not the rule but the exception. The lion's
share of MOF is great quality alt-country definitely, folk
so much. There are only two songs "Man Named Truth" and
"Goodway" that I would feel comfortable even remotely calling
"folk". This album is hands down, without a doubt, an alt-country
record. But arguing over styles or names is not the point here.
The point is that this record is a fun listen in a time of mediocre
to okay songwriting. I would take "Ahead Of The Curve" or
the great ELO or Wings reminiscent 70's rocker "Say
Please" over the goddamned Kings Of Leon any day. The
point I'm trying to make amidst this tirade is, this record is good
and familiar in a "I heard this before but I don't care"
kind of way and that's alright sometimes, isn't it?
It has happened. I have been listening to music long enough and have
been on this planet for enough spins to finally hear bands copy my
mom's record collection without sounding hackneyed or boring.
There is great and not so great songwriting here but that really
doesn't matter. This is an album of singles. No, it is a complete
album. It is a piece of work, a whole being not something to be divided
and sold single by single on iTunes. No, this is a creature to be
enjoyed as one cohesive work or hated as self-indulgent.
Much like this review.
Either way the boys in the "super group" Monsters of Folk
should be proud of what they have given the jam band fans, indie kids,
singer songwriter types and neo-hippies. "It's a fine thing"
as my friend Hans would say.
In the interest of reality, it is a monster. Not of folk though
They should've called the group "Monsters of Alt-Country"
or "Alternative Hillbilly Beasts" because that's truly what
this record is. Alternative Country all the way. But then again, those
names don't have the grandiose ring or the headline grabbing appeal
of Monsters of Folk do they?
-Danny R Phillips
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