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Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk – 2009 (Shangri-La)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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Monsters of Folk was spawned in post-show jams between Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket and M. Ward earlier in the decade; Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, Jim James and Matt Ward actualized a tour in 2004 (which was dubbed Monsters of Folk by their tour manager), but it's taken the quartet five years to translate the structured jam atmosphere of their tour into a studio experience. The foursome assembled early last year with the barest ideas for songs with plans to lay down demos, hammered the material into shape as a group and emerged with a nearly completed version of their self-titled debut.

They may be the Monsters of Folk, but the quartet has clearly colored outside of genre lines. There is a Marvin Gaye-meets-Moby ambient soul texture on Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.), which is followed by the Jeff Lynne-flavored Say Please, the Wilburys/Beatlesque pop/rock of Whole Lotta Losin', the Everly Brothers twang pop of Magic Marker and the MMJ reverb shimmer of Temazcal. The Monsters don't skimp on the folk, though, from the George Harrison country romp The Right Place to the Wilco-at-a-bluegrass-festival protest song Man Named Truth to the ambient gospel of Goodway to the Tweedy-channels-Guthrie contemporary classicism of The Sandman, The Brakeman and Me.

Considering the band's spontaneously collaborative approach to writing, the album is understandably diverse and unexpectedly cohesive.