Music Monday: The Monsters of Folk Rock Out, Sort Of

<a href="http://monstersoffolk.com/">Monsters of Folk</a>

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Let’s pretend that Monsters of Folk is, true to its tongue-in-cheek name, actually a supergroup. The first rule of supergroup appreciation is that you have to pick your favorite member. Sometimes it’s a tricky choice: Nelson, Lefty, or Lucky Wilbury? Willie, Johnny, or Waylon? In Monsters of Folk, you have your pick of four artists who are neither real folkies nor real rock stars: M. Ward, Conor Oberst, Jim James, and Mike Mogis. Before even picking up their self-titled disc, my money was on M. Ward. I still have his Transfiguration of Vincent and Post-War on heavy rotation and even though his recent efforts have gone a bit soft (the inoffensive Hold Time and She & Him, a collaboration with the adorable yet Auto-Tune-worthy Zooey Deschanel), I’m a sucker for his melancholy pop.

Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst would be my runner-up, but only because I’ve never really listened to James’ My Morning Jacket because the phrase “jam band” is often in proximity to its name, fairly or not. Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning was great, but I have a low tolerance for Oberst’s earnest warbling. And I must confess I have never heard of Mike Mogis (a member of Bright Eyes, and as the M.O.F.’s pinch hitter-slash-engineer, its Jeff Lynne, to borrow a Wilbury). So doing some quick supergroup mental math, I figured if M.O.F. was half as enjoyable as an M. Ward album, I’d be content.

Call me happy, then. After listening to M.O.F. on earbuds and speakers, attentively and as background noise, I’m thoroughly hooked. Though there’s some of the obligatory supergroup-style alternate verse singing, none of the songs feel like they’ve been written or performed by committee. No one hogs the spotlight, even though in terms of recognizable songwriting, M. Ward comes off as the group’s dominant member, but just barely; “Baby Boomer,” “Goodway,” “Slow Down Jo,” and “The Sandman, The Brakeman and Me” have his trademark old-timey sound. No fewer than four of the album’s 15 tracks have Oberst’s stamp on them, but that’s not always a bad thing. The quietly urgent “Ahead of the Curve” is a standout, yet the allegorical “Man Named Truth” throws subtlety out the window. (Don’t ever buy nothing from a man named Truth.) James isn’t overshadowed here: His “Magic Marker” is a gem (gotta love his use of the old Tootsie Pop jingle, How many licks does it take…?) and “The Right Place” is a pitch-perfect alt-country tune. Both are reassuringly jam-free.

The album opens with an anomalous track, “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F),” whose drum-machine loop, harp swells, and falsetto doo-wops suggest that it might belong on Monsters of Soft Rock. But it turns out to be one of the most memorable tracks, and its lyrics strike an agnostic note that is picked up again in the album’s closer, the low-key anthem “His Master’s Voice” (mohammed and christ speak twice as nice…/but the one that i like best—he sings inside my chest…) It’s not all mellow introspection—there’s also a couple of catchy, rockin’ tunes, “Say Please” and “Losin Yo Head.” M.O.F. is as eclectic as the would-be superstars behind it, but there’s nary a stinker in the bunch. Folk yeah!
 

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate