Photo courtesy of Monsters of Folk.com / The Collegian
The debut album by indie powerhouse â€œMonsters of Folkâ€, released Sept. 22 on Shangri-La Music, expands beyond the genre but fails to excite eardrums.
The bandâ€™s all-star lineup includes Portland, Ore. songster M.Ward, whoâ€™s also one half of cutesy-rock duo â€œShe & Himâ€ with actress Zooey Deschanel, Yim Yames, moniker of alternative-rock â€œMy Morning Jacketâ€™sâ€ lead singer Jim James and hailing from the band â€œBright Eyes,â€ singer/songwriter Conor Oberst and multi-instrumentalist producer Mike Mogis.
The self-titled album opens with its best track â€œDear God (Sincerely M.O.F.),â€ Propelled by Yamesâ€™ smooth, almost-too-high vocals and backed by the angelic tones of the harp, itâ€™s written as an open-ended letter to God.
â€œDear Godâ€™sâ€ lyrics include, â€œWell Iâ€™ve been thinking about, and Iâ€™ve been breaking it down, without an answer / I know Iâ€™m thinking aloud, but if your loveâ€™s still around, why do we suffer?â€
Unfortunately for the listener, none of the tracks that follow on â€œMonsters of Folk,â€ render the same response.
â€œSay Please,â€ the albumâ€™s satisfactory second song, breaks the quiet, melodic flow established by â€œDear Godâ€ with its annoying, insistent request for itâ€™s subject to â€œhold out your hand, darling / Say please.â€
Itâ€™s when the songs get louder that the album suffers. Weighed down by lazy lyricism, too many tracks on â€œMonsters of Folkâ€ rely on repetition. Oberst sings in his quivery voice, â€œDonâ€™t ever buy nothing from a man named truth,â€ three times in a four-sentence chorus on the rustic, guitar-plucking â€œMan Named Truth.â€
Similarly, â€œThe Right Placeâ€ finds Yames singing the throwaway lyrics â€œI needed you like you needed me / People, they need piano keys.â€
The album isnâ€™t all bad. The sound is stellar, with all four members playing every instrument featured.
The prizes of the disc lie in the quieter songs. â€œSlow Down Joâ€ takes its own advice, starting with a hushed acoustic guitar and building off of Wardâ€™s mellow crooning to incorporate the harmonies of the entire group. Penned as an instructional manual to a friend whoâ€™s living life too hard and accompanied by the surprising sound of a steel drum, the song is a success.
â€œIt ainâ€™t by poking out your eyes, when you see something you donâ€™t like / Even your mama said she donâ€™t want to see you spent at 25 / So come on Jo stay alive.â€
The albumâ€™s fourth track, â€œTemazcal,â€ seasoned with haunting echoes and story-telling verses stands out among the rest of the songs. â€œLove we made at gunpoint wasnâ€™t love at all / the dancing in the valley, the moons, the mirrored ball / blew open my mind, now itâ€™s an empty room.â€
There are great songs on â€œMonsters of Folk,â€ just too few of them. The album is comprised of adequate tracks more than standout tunes and when listened to in its entirety, it fades into the background.