Label: Rough Trade Records Release date: 21/09/09 Website: http://monstersoffolk.com/ “Well, somebody likes Bob Dylan.” “They do call themselves Monsters of Folk, let’s remember.” So went the conversation between my brother and myself upon first listen to the exceedingly comfortable yet rarely outstanding debut album from super group Monsters of Folk. It was in reaction to one of the album’s strongest cuts, ‘The Right Place,’ a Jim James (under the whimsical pseudonym Yim Yames)-led straight folk-pop gem with lyrics so doe-eyed and honest it’s difficult not to smile. Yames hails from jam rock band and seminal live act My Morning Jacket, and he’s accompanied here by Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes, the Mystic Valley River Band and solo endeavors), M. Ward (primarily solo, though he did release the excellent Volume One as She & Him with the help of indie darling Zooey Deschanel) and Mike Mogis, production wizard extraordinaire from Saddle Creek records. Monsters of Folk have existed since way back in 2004, and this album has presumably been the paramount labor of love for all involved, four artists-as-friends living in each other’s company and sharing experiences. It’s this honesty and sense of genuine friendship that pervades the album and raises even the more mediocre cuts to a level of general enjoyment. The artists do not shy away from this camaraderie either, as the booklet is rife with images of the band either performing or just hanging out (and there is certainly no shortage of promotional pictures fluttering around the web). One would be forgiven, then, for assuming that Monsters of Folk should feel a lot more like a collaboration than a collection of songs that, for the most part, sound ripped from the canons of their respective leaders. Indeed, only Yames really ventures outside of his comfort zone – while both Ward and Oberst’s contributions would fit pleasingly on any of their recent albums, Yames’ tracks – the psych-pop vibe of ‘Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.),’ the rollicking good nature of ‘The Right Place,’ the gentle hum of ‘His Master’s Voice’ – are decidedly more difficult to pin down as they contain relatively few allusions to MMJ, and it’s no coincidence that they are among the album’s most exciting tracks. And when the three singers trade off, like in the rambling, catchy ‘Say Please,’ the album’s potential shines through. Which shouldn’t suggest that business-as-usual on the part of the rest of the gang completely stymies their presence. Oberst is aflame with passion on ‘Man Named Truth,’ and his incredibly visceral lyrics portray a warped tale of love and terror whose story remains ambiguous enough to seem completely surreal every listen. M. Ward stretches his technical muscle on “Good Way” with a soaring sunblast of a solo and contributes some steady rocking swagger with the witty ‘Baby Boomer.’ It’s a shame that, for much of the second half of the album – from the lackadaisical ‘Ahead of the Curve’ to the meandering ‘Map of the World’ – not much happens. It’s as if the songs have become too comfortable, too lived-in and cozy to be particularly powerful. It’s not until the mysterious “Sandman, the Brakeman and Me,” that the monotony is derailed. Despite these various shortcomings, there is a likeability to Monsters of Folk that makes it a difficult album to forget. Fans of Bob Dylan have probably heard most of these songs before, as the songwriters only occasionally venture outside confines of folk music, but fans of any of the artists involved will surely find much to love. It is an album that is meant to be enjoyed in the same manner as it was written: with friends, sharing time and experiences, and recognizing the joy of their company. Rating: 6/10 What say you on this? Sound off in our Fourum!