Monsters of Folk: S/T

Written By:

Aidan Williamson

18th September 2009
At 17:31 GMT

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"When well-known rockers get together in new configurations, they're guaranteed lots of attention, but these ego summits rarely bear fruit as fresh as what made these guys famous in the first place."

The above quote was written by Ohioan journalist Chris DeVille back in 2008 and is perhaps the soberest, yet most accurate assessment of the potential pitfalls of the supergroup.

When it comes down to the wire, it's pretty much an even split as to whether the bands succeed or fail. In the 'success' column we could chalk down Broken Social Scene, The Postal Service and The Sound of Animals Fighting. On the other hand, in the fail section we could mark down Velvet Revolver, Zwan, Audioslave, Child Rebel Soldier, The Good The Bad & The Queen and Velvet Revolver. We're aware we said one twice there, but they were that bad, they were deserving of double attention.

"Take a piece of the sunshine with you on a night-time drive" because - the cheekily, and ironically named - Monsters of Folk have very much placed themselves in the first column. While it is true that this début is unlikely to touch the deistic realm in which many had envisioned the band, it is also the furthest thing from a failure we can imagine.

Although obviously rooted in folk - they are garnering many comparisons to the Bob Dylan/George Harrison/Roy Orbison/Tom Petty supergoup of the 80's Travelling Wilburys - there is exactly the amount of sonic divergence you would expect: it's not just four guys with acoustic guitars. Drum machines abound throughout the album and guitars are often draped in fuzz with the vocals casually buried under reams of studio magic (i.e. reverb and echo).

Depending on your angle of approach to this album, the band member's fanclub to which you subscribe may have a bearing of which songs you appreciate more. While Mogis' influence is apparent throughout, the three famed folk singers usually take turns on the front microphone (although "Losin' Yo Head" does a remarkable job of presenting all together) with vastly varied results. Since we approach from camp Oberst, we have drawn a large green circle around "Ahead of the Curve". It is perhaps one of the finest, most delicately emotive songs he has ever put his voice to, perfectly roping in all eras of his work, sounding as if it could have been the best song on any of his numerous Bright Eyes albums.

M. Ward fans, if they haven't already enough highlights from his She & Him album with rom-com star Zooey Deschanel, will have "Sandman, The Brakeman and Me" to draw tiny love hearts around. Drifting effortlessly from vibrant stripped-down verses to heavenly - legions of angels - choruses and guitar work which rises sixteen layers above perfunctory. It is truly an exemplary work, worthy of entering the annals of folk history.

It could be that all these members have shared friendship prior to their uniting, it could be that all are known for their easy-charm, accessibility and self-deprecating nature, it could be that all the members have a specific place in the scheme of things so as to not be forced to do battle with one another or, it could be a good old fashioned miracle. For whatever reason, Monsters of Folk is a project with casually pulls together and manages to distil the various traits which mark its contributors out from the crowd into one complete album.

Perhaps it could benefit from a little more restraint on the tracklist ("Slow Down Jo" could be surgically removed with ease), but the fifty-five minutes never seem that long: as it should be when you're in the company of friends.

Rating:  8 / 10

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