Supergroups are rarely more than the sum of their parts, with each member clutching an impressive CV of their own work in order to make a consummate organ of their better attributes. However, it often comes as a shock to the system as to how un-super many of these bands can be on record, rarely bringing anything new to the table and instead indulging in egos and the zeitgeist of a genre time forgot in order to resolve some sort of fiscal or career form.
Monsters Of Folk, comprising of Jim Jones (My Morning Jacket), Matt Ward (M.Ward/She & Him), Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) on paper read as the next Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, with a creative dynamic that should not disappoint. Even the lack of a steady Ringo to these middle of the road Lennons and McCartneys does not seem to have hampered them; instead, Jones takes to the stool with a steady rhythm or opting for the technical prowess of Mogis in programming signature beats.
Opener ‘Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F)’ is an interesting, endearing and ethereal opener, snatching percussive samples from Trevor Dandy’s 1970 ‘Is There Any Love’. The gospel feel of the original beats are layered with a heavenly soul of rousing harps and synthesisers, as Jones, Ward and Oberst snatch a verse of theological ruminations. The result is quite beautiful if somewhat of a take on Take That turns indie.
Single ‘Say Please’ jogs casually along to Conor’s rather maudlin vocal until Mike rips through the middle eight with a stadium-structured solo, distinctly stirring what is rather a dull track into life. This is not the first occasion Mike saves the album with his Jeff Lynne-style of production and foundation for surreptitiously layering instruments, but a longer look after a few listens results in himself and Jones being the only two who save face on this album.
Oberst and Ward vocally take the centre stage on many of the 15 tracks on display, often leaving many dry and devoid of any emotion gain similar to that of their previous releases away from MOF. However, when they do conjure any form, they do it well: ‘Whole Lotta Losin’’ sees Matt melodically flourish over one of the better of the album tracks, followed by Conor’s sombre intonations that unveil “The love we made at gunpoint wasn’t love at all” during the pensive distillations of the travelling ‘Temazcal’.
Stylistically, the album doesn’t falter, with much of its plaudits going to Jim and Mike for their technical additions and direction with much of the albums structure. The quality of the band’s cohesiveness is met, and most distinct, on the likes of ‘Map of the World’ (an unravelling narrative that broods with vocalised timbres), and the vocal baton that is passed throughout ‘Baby Boomer’ like a Olympic 4×100 track team turned troubadours.
‘Slow Down Jo’ and ‘Magic Marker’ are part of a number of tracks that fall under the radar, lacking the certainty of soul that is expected from a unit of marketable musicians, making this debut from Monster Of Folk somewhat sub-par and schmaltzy than another supergroup to buy into.