[sic] Magazine

Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk

‘What’s That Coming Over The Hill, Billy?’

Conor Oberst is a prolific little devil and make no mistake. His emotional Bright Eyes persona has taken a back seat, the last release from which was in the easy-listening form of 2007’s Cassadaga. Since then, he has released the highly credible and self-titled album Conor Oberst, as well as the so-so romp of Outer South, recorded in Mexico with the Mystic Valley Band earlier this year.

Now Monsters Of Folk sees him teaming up with some of the most successful alt-country practitioners around to flesh out this super-group whimsy that has been brewing in gossip for 5 years. And for better or worse, and although the cover is equally split for the four (comprising M Ward, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis), Monsters Of Folk is mostly still an Oberst show.

Nevertheless, each takes a turn at being showcased, James on the ever-so-pretty opener ‘Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)’, the twinkling country ballad ‘The Right Place’, and beguiling closer ‘His Master’s Voice’. But it’s his fuzzy, sepia-stained college-rocker ‘Losin Yo Head’ that is most interesting, removing one of the Monsters from under the bed and out of their comfort zone.

Ward takes the mike on the clapping ‘Baby Boomer’, a track which would sit happily on his own 2009 album Hold Time, as well as on the syrupy, steel guitar-based ‘Goodway’. Oberst has the largest quota, taking, amongst others, ‘Man Named Truth’, a vitriolic tirade that further aligns him with Dylan, the likeable ‘Temazcal’, as well as the quintessentially Oberst-of-late sounding ‘Ahead Of The Curve’. The stop-start, acoustic theatrics of ‘Map Of The World’ are pleasing, if not challenging. Mogis appears from time to time, vocally morphing into any one of the other three.

Despite not being any of their best material, Oberst in particular increasingly seems a golden boy. Even when not at his best, he, along with James, Ward and Mogis, still churns out a win, and that consistency is why he finds himself near the top of the contemporary, singer-songwriter pile.

Like Outer South however, Monsters Of Folk is a little overweight at 15 tracks. ‘Magic Marker’, for example, is bland yet easy-going. What is more worrying is the lack of coherency; most tracks are pointedly their singer’s own. However, these worries are easily abated though when the album is deconstructed. It makes little play to be coherent, so matters little having gone unmet.

Monsters Of Folk is no gargantuan in the scene, rather a product of it. The heavy dilution of folk and country into alt- varieties and all-consuming Americana has brought the sound to the relative masses, which pleases in profits but less in purity. This said, and in the best possible way, MOF often sounds like MOR should.