Jul 09, 2020

Monsters of Folk

Photo courtesy of Monsters of Folk.com / The Collegian

The debut album by indie powerhouse “Monsters of Folk”, released Sept. 22 on Shangri-La Music, expands beyond the genre but fails to excite eardrums.

The band’s all-star lineup includes Portland, Ore. songster M.Ward, who’s also one half of cutesy-rock duo “She & Him” with actress Zooey Deschanel, Yim Yames, moniker of alternative-rock “My Morning Jacket’s” lead singer Jim James and hailing from the band “Bright Eyes,” singer/songwriter Conor Oberst and multi-instrumentalist producer Mike Mogis.

The self-titled album opens with its best track “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.),” Propelled by Yames’ smooth, almost-too-high vocals and backed by the angelic tones of the harp, it’s written as an open-ended letter to God.

“Dear God’s” lyrics include, “Well I’ve been thinking about, and I’ve been breaking it down, without an answer / I know I’m thinking aloud, but if your love’s still around, why do we suffer?”

Unfortunately for the listener, none of the tracks that follow on “Monsters of Folk,” render the same response.

“Say Please,” the album’s satisfactory second song, breaks the quiet, melodic flow established by “Dear God” with its annoying, insistent request for it’s subject to “hold out your hand, darling / Say please.”

It’s when the songs get louder that the album suffers. Weighed down by lazy lyricism, too many tracks on “Monsters of Folk” rely on repetition. Oberst sings in his quivery voice, “Don’t ever buy nothing from a man named truth,” three times in a four-sentence chorus on the rustic, guitar-plucking “Man Named Truth.”

Similarly, “The Right Place” finds Yames singing the throwaway lyrics “I needed you like you needed me / People, they need piano keys.”

The album isn’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. “Slow Down Jo” takes its own advice, starting with a hushed acoustic guitar and building off of Ward’s mellow crooning to incorporate the harmonies of the entire group. Penned as an instructional manual to a friend who’s living life too hard and accompanied by the surprising sound of a steel drum, the song is a success.

“It ain’t by poking out your eyes, when you see something you don’t like / Even your mama said she don’t want to see you spent at 25 / So come on Jo stay alive.”

The album’s fourth track, “Temazcal,” seasoned with haunting echoes and story-telling verses stands out among the rest of the songs. “Love we made at gunpoint wasn’t love at all / the dancing in the valley, the moons, the mirrored ball / blew open my mind, now it’s an empty room.”

There are great songs on “Monsters of Folk,” 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.

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