Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La)

Phases & Stages

Monsters of Folk

(Shangri-La)

Jim James, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst have expanded modern Americana through their distinct progressions over the past decade: James from Southern-swaddled reverb to falsetto soul; Ward from intimate lo-fi rasp to Buddy Holly-ripping pop renaissance; Oberst from cathartic, solipsistic angst to rootsy wanderlust. Add Saddle Creek überproducer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and Monsters of Folk's debut threatens to fray at the seams of its diffusive talent. Yet while each songwriter's contributions are uniquely signatured in sound on the album, they still meld into an exceptional whole behind complementing harmonies and stylistic blends. James swoons atop simulated strings and syncopated beats on opener "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)," but Ward's and Oberst's verses transfix with their unexpectedly supple R&B touches. "Temazcal" and "Ahead of the Curve" wheel familiar Oberst narratives, but pushed by Ward's guitar and James' atmospheric shadings; "Goodway" and "The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me" whisper classic Ward, only with backing vocals chiming upbeat. The loose Traveling Wilburys-vibe results in an impressive coherence, and though they inhabit one another's songs expertly, these Monsters' genre-expanding combinations – Gram Parsons-esque "The Right Place," bopping rock of "Losin Yo Head," and George Harrison-echoing "His Master's Voice" – prove equally inspired.

****

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