Review: Monsters of Folk – S/T
Looking at Monsters of Folk self-titled new album cover, which features stern portraits of the band members set in unflattering greyscale, and considering the prestigiousness of the artists involved, you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Monsters of Folk’ was going to be a sedate, uptight affair.
Not so; everything in ‘Monsters of Folk’ debut is tinged with a gentle humour – from the self-effacing bad name (The name ‘Monsters of Folk’ is surely either unfortunate or genius) to the opener ‘Dear God (Yours Sincerely M.O.F)’ which surely must be the most surprising opener of the year; eschewing their title, Monsters of Folk have created a gorgeous slice of reverent trip-hop – although the band sound slightly insincere delivering the pious lyrics, like naughty children suppressing giggles in the church pews. ‘Dear God’ might upset some folk purists expecting a more traditional outing, but for the rest of us, it’s a winner.
The next track enters more familiar territory; ‘Say Please’ is a predictable enough folk-rock jaunt, transcended by the sheer professionalism of the artists involved – Ward’s lethargic delivery is spot-on, and an expertly-executed guitar solo from James snatches the track from insipidness.
Those who find Oberst’s brand of plaintive, histrionic folk will find his presence pleasantly diluted on ‘Monsters of Folk’; although he does come over all sulky on the waltzing ‘Temazcal’, whining ‘Love we made at gunpoint wasn’t love at all’.
Somewhere in the middle of ‘Temazcal’, ‘Monsters of Folk’ begins to sound suspiciously like an Oberst record, until Ward chimes in ‘you’re there and then you’re not’, and a gorgeous synth line emerges to the surface.
Ward and Oberst are the vocal centrepieces on most of the track – and, to a certain extent, ‘Monsters of Folk’ sounds like a best-of Ward & Oberst compilation – the doo-wop roll of ‘Whole Lotta Losin’’ is surely up there with ‘Never Had Nobody Like You’ in Ward’s best moments, and Oberst cracking earnestness, like it or not, is perfect for this style of music. James is more than happy to mill around the background, his guitar work frequently raising the weaker tracks out of the depths – although he does shine on surely M.O.F’s biggest single, ‘Losin’ Yo Head’, his voice is a little overbearing in otherwise-gorgeous ‘His Masters Voice’; James’ voice is far more suited to rock-orientated tracks than the sweet, rolling guitars of the closer.
‘Monsters of Folk’ is certainly a nostalgic record, and both M.O.F’s main players seem to yearn for an era long gone – whether it’s the warm, post-war familiarity of Ward’s stripped-down production ethos, or Oberst’s Dylan-inspired verbosity; these past influences worm their way into ‘Monsters of Folk’, colouring the tracks with a kind of simplistic modern nostalgia (an oxymoron it may be) that has been rife in the indie music scene this passing year – and although this style is perfectly pleasant, incredibly listenable and often exceptionally lucid, it also seems slightly false, like pre-antiquated furniture or a page stained with tea to make it look aged.
It may be picking holes, but the best albums are timeless – and although ‘Monsters of Folk’ is above-averagely good-it just doesn’t quite make it.