So due to this blog I've been recruited to write music reviews for my University publication, and luckily the editor is allowing me to get my hands on some pretty neat stuff. This week I listened to the new Monsters of Folk superband self titled record that drops tomorrow. Considering that I haven't really researched much new music lately, I'm going to post it with their single Say Please
The other day I learned a bit about folk music. As I understand it, folk music came to be a type of layman’s music that the normal person could play on their front deck and not have to become a legitimate recording artist to enjoy when records began to explode into general life. Folk music passed down different stories that were easily translated through song as well. Some people describe folk music as “old songs with no known author”; well, if that is our working definition then Monsters of Folk need to find a new genre. Monsters of Folk is a superband consisting of well known musicians including Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Mike Mogis, as well as the well noted Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, and M. Ward.
Alright, now that all the logistics are in place, let’s get to talking about Monster of Folk’s self titled freshman album.
When I think about folk music I generally think about people sitting on a porch with a guitar and just singing about what has happened in their lives, and while this album definitely evokes that feeling, it evokes many more. While listening to Monsters of Folk I went through feeling like I was riding horses looking for bad guys with John Wayne, to riding in a rusty old Ford truck through crop fields, to flashing the peace sign at an anti-Vietnam war rally. This album covers a ton of area within the folk region. Some of it feels very Elvis-ish and poppy, and some of it feels very Blitzen Trapper indie folk. The majority of songs have a very grooving beat that makes one tap their feet without realizing. Losin’ Yo’ Head stands out on the album as one of the stronger songs. Losin’ Yo’ Head is one of the more up-beat songs on the album, it is very full sounding and is closer to the poppy Elvis sound I mentioned earlier. I like it.
One thing I really enjoy about this band is their wit. The song Baby Boomer strings together backhanded slights very craftily at (presumably) the American government for things such as the Vietnam War and September 11th with lines such as “we don’t agree about September, can we agree on Vietnam”. Songs like Baby Boomer keep the album moving very quickly. Next on the album is a song entitled Man Named Truth that exemplifies why the band is called Monsters of Folk. This song contains just about every sound from a cowboy movie. I keep expecting to hear a whip crack. The song is written as a traditional folk song keeping the lyrics very wordy to explain things such as “fell in love with identical twins/lived 34 summers between the two of them”. This keeps old tradition strong and makes one really think about the lyrics, which aren’t hard to decipher.
The first three songs on the album are a tiny bit different from the rest of the record. The first song – Dear God (Sincerely M.o.F.) – sounds like what Monsters of Folk would expect the next wave of folk music to sound like. It’s very minimalist feeling. And by that I mean there is a lot of picking guitar chords, a constant, somewhat boring drum beat (which reminds me of Sublime’s Summertime) and lots of low bass hits that just create an odd, yet still folky song. The next song – Say Please – sounds very 70s, but feels like a song written for movie credits. Next third song – Whole Lotta Losin’ employs a synthesizer with a classic driving folk beat and piano that mesh to make a great song. All three songs seem to be experimental before the album really jumps into full folk swing.
All in all I feel like Monsters of Folk have done a good job creating a much hyped folk album. I do feel as though some of the music falls a tiny bit short of being “traditional” folk, but they definitely hit on the “contemporary” scale. I’ve got to say, I did not enjoy this album on first listen through. I am not a huge folk listener generally, but I do have a taste for it when in the right mood. Monsters of Folk is just upbeat enough that it keeps you very into it. The songs go by very quickly, and the lyrics are great to actually listen to. This album is definitely for people with a taste for folk, but it is possible that some more mainstream listeners may warm up to it if they give the record a chance.
Monsters of Folk, in my opinion, has successfully brought back an old sound and cultivated it enough to sound appealable to many different people. This begs the question though, if this music has been created as such, is it really folk music? I say who cares, buy the album and enjoy it.
Monsters of Folk - Say Please