What do you get when you combine the acoustic mastery of Yim Yames, the multi-instrument and producing skills of Mike Mogis, the almost haunting voice of M. Ward, and the poignant presence of Conor Oberst? A fusion of talent that transcends the disconnect of other collaborations.
“Monsters of Folk” brilliantly blends the distinct sounds of these four musicians without defining their separate influences. Different from other collaborations, “Monsters of Folk” serves as a confluence of sound, listing each song as written, produced, and performed by Monsters of Folk, asserting their intricate integration.
The four ‘monsters’ achieve a sincere camaraderie as they swap instruments throughout the album, a cooperation that becomes evident in the smooth transition between songs.
“Baby Boomer” showcases this consistently balanced exchange, alternating between Ward, Oberst, and Yames on vocals.
While there are moments when perhaps hints of the individual artist are evident, such as “Man Named Truth” where Oberst’s influence pervades the emotionally charged, yet simple lyrics, the incorporation of the other three prevented the characteristically rapid riffs from being overpowering.
The first track “Dear God” establishes the tone for the entire album, initiating the continual address of the uncertainties of the human condition with a soulful, nearly psychedelic beginning. Songs discuss everything from solitude to death to life decisions, all which return to the fundamental questions of existence and relation to God. The sometimes somber connotations introduced by “ Losin Yo Head” and “Magic Map of the World” are countered by the optimistic “Goodway” and “Ahead of the Curve.”
Just as the album balances musical influence and theme, the Monsters of Folk also flawlessly converge genres. “Sandman, The Brakeman And Me” and “Goodway” sneak in tinges of country, following the pattern of a majority of the songs, which are a mixture of folk, rock, country, and at times, psychedelic.
The chemistry these four possess, first discovered when on tour together five years ago, certainly translates to their collaborative project. Despite the album title, Mogis, Oberst, Ward, and Yames have more than proven themselves masters of folk and everything in between.