Album Review: Folk giants transform into Monsters

Monsters of Folk, a self-titled debut album released on Sept. 22, is a collaboration composed of four long-standing artists in the independent folk genre.

The group includes Conor Oberst, best known for his work with Bright Eyes, Matt Ward of M. Ward and She & Him, Jim James, (known on the record as Yim Yames) of My Morning Jacket, and Mike Mogis, also of Bright Eyes.

The name Monsters of Folk came about when the band members, then working on their own projects, toured together under "An Evening with Bright Eyes, Jim James and M. Ward" which press referred to as the "Monsters of Folk."

Mainly a softer album, Monsters of Folk is composed of road songs and contemplations. Many of the lyrics are Oberst-like, especially when considering his relatively new career with the Mystic Valley Band in which songs relate to traveling the southwest countryside of the United States.

The album, split vocally between Oberst and Ward, is often overpowered by Ward's deep gruff voice to the point of annoyance. "Slow down Joe" could easily be found on M. Ward's Transistor Radio and is too slow to be cohesive with the rest of the album.

Four leaders, no matter how well respected, cannot always sync well for a concise album. Though there is an audible effort on the members' parts to evenly divide vocals, the result is a muddled mess of separated songs that do not mesh well as an album, but form more of a compilation of four different artists in the same style.

"Map of the World" is the substance that should comprise of the rest of the album - crafted, not made, with awakening lyrics and the need to move on: "Put the razor to your face, hot water for a shave / Kill the shadow of yesterday / Clean shirt, clean pants, clean slate, second chance / You're going by another name."

Monsters of Folk makes use of Oberst's traveling-based lyrics, Ward's well-proportioned backup vocals, Mogis's production expertise and James's resounding guitar. Soft but still alternative, "Map of the World" is the folk-fusion style song that was expected by many from the band.

Some songs such as "Ahead of the Curve" and "Temazcal" represent the quality of work that the band was able to accomplish and are the best examples of cooperation. Most of the other songs on the album, however, show a disjunction among the members that does not fare well for them.

Monsters of Folk's self-titled debut is a great album for new listeners to become exposed to the band members' discographies and expand into the alt-folk genre.