Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Disc of the Day: Monsters of Folk

The indie-rock supergroup of the year? Yes, that's a fitting description for Monsters of Folk, but the project isn't as contrived as that label might suggest: Their whole comes off as something larger than the sum of the parts.

I'm late in posting this, but below is my review of the CD, as published in Las Vegas City Life. You can link to the piece by clicking here.

Monsters of Folk, Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La Music)

Any given supergroup faces a built-in challenge. Too calculated and the enterprise comes off as contrived cash-in; too loose and the whole operation devolves into an ill-conceived time filler.

Thankfully, the cheekily named Monsters of Folk, bringing together My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, and M. Ward, falls into neither of those traps. Instead, the four, variously sharing and swapping songwriting, instrumental and vocal duties (Mogis doesn't sing), turn in a brand of folk, or, rather, American indie rock, that distills what they do in their day jobs into a sound that's appealing and mostly avoids preciousness.

Fallen faith -- in deities, in people -- is a theme floating around these 15 tracks, most pointedly on the James-dominated opening and closing tracks: "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" allies trip-hop rhythms with old-school soul falsetto vocals and harmonies, and synth-generated harp flourishes, while "His Master's Voice" rambles along on cascading acoustic and electric guitar and occasional dark keyboard pounces.

These monsters offer plenty to love, including Oberst's chugging John Lennon-style rocker "Say Please," complete with nervy guitar skronk; the mythic Americana of Ward's "The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me"; and the wide-spectrum pop of James' "Losin Yo Head." Sequel, please.

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