Monsters of Folk is an indie supergroup comprised of Jim James (credited as Yim Yames) from My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, and M. Ward. Although I appreciate their talents and on separate occasions have seen James, Oberst, and Ward in concert, I don’t consider myself a fan in comparison to many who were likely drawn to this collaboration.
Alternating lead vocals and harmonizing well together, “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” is an old school R&B number where they ask a fair question to the Almighty. “If your love’s still around…why do we suffer?” They play over programmed drums, which contrasts with a celestial-sounding harp. The song contains a sample of Trevor Dandy’s “Is There Any Love” and is a very odd choice to open the album as it belies what’s to follow. Should have been a B-side.
Oberst takes the lead vocal on “Say Please,” an uplifting tale about offering a hand to help someone down. Mogis delivers a wonderful, though slightly distorted, solo on the bridge and Yames plays drums. Has a mid-‘60s vibe before the drugs took hold. “Whole Lotta Losin’” with its upbeat pop-rock vibe, western guitar twang, and melodious group vocals, brings to mind another supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.
The arrangement on “Temazcal” sounds eerily familiar but I can’t place it. There’s a laid -back, Baja California vibe as Oberst sings a haunting tale of things that “are they’re there and they’re gone.” There’s lot of good poetry in the lyrics, a common trait on the songs he sings lead on.
I love the entire country twang of “The Right Place.” Yames' vocal, Oberst’s piano, and Mogis’ steel guitar nail it as the lyrics ask questions of whether “you are in the right place.” “Man Named Truth” is another song filled with Oberst’s poetic way with words and Mogis leads the up-tempo pace his with mandolin. It’s perfect for driving across flat, open stretches of road.
Every time the first line of Ward’s “Goodway” is sung, it sounds like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Mogis does some mighty fine work on the dobro on the bridge. The song then takes an odd turn as someone allegedly reads from an “anonymous letter read immediately before being burned.” Ward’s “Slow Down Jo” is an intervention to an out-of-control friend. The arrangement, from the soft vocals to the steel guitar and steel drums, creates a peaceful, easy feeling
Yames’ “Losin Yo Head” has an odd schism. At the opening, the narrator is scared when home alone, like a child worried about monsters in the closet. Later, he recommends “losing your head” as a great panacea but couldn't that have led to the paranoia? The music is a tad harsh. Someone can be overheard saying, “that’s pretty cool,” but I disagree.
Oberst’s “Map Of The World” has a great line about shaving, “kill the shadow of yesterday.” Ward’s “Sandman, The Brakeman and Me” is a nice lullaby and would have made a perfect track to have the album drift away into the ether. Yames does himself a disservice with the falsetto he chooses to deliver on “His Master’s Voice.” It’s a little too high-pitched, distracting from the serious nature of the song.
While Monsters of Folk created a pleasant mix of songs and styles, there was nothing captivating for me. Every time I put it on, I kept getting distracted, drifting away by about song #4 or #5 unless I forced myself to focus and listen. The Oberst-led songs were the best of the bunch, followed by Ward’s. Other than the very good “The Right Place,” Yames’ songs could have been cut and wouldn’t have been missed. However, when this goes on the shelf, I don't see myself picking it back up.