MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Super groups have a long tradition in popular music: The Highwaymen, The Three Tenors, the Wu-Tang Clan. Recently, a group of established indie rock musicians put their own spin on the tradition. They cheekily call themselves Monsters of Folk and they've just released their debut album.
Critic Will Hermes has this review.
WILL HERMES: As a rule, I'm not a fan of super groups. They usually water down individual visions without nailing down a collective one, and most pop stars aren't so good at sharing the spotlight. But when I heard that Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and solo artist M. Ward were teaming up, I figured, okay, I love their work separately. With any luck, it'll be, oh, maybe a Traveling Wilburys. Turns out, these guys are in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young territory.
(Soundbite of song, "Map of the World")
MONSTERS OF FOLK (Band) (Singing) It's a road that you paved over Indian graves and you wonder why your dreams are crazed. So you cling to your wife, your kids, and your life. There's nothing that you're gonna save. Put the razor to your face, hot water for a shave, kill the shadow of yesterday. Clean shirt, clean pants, clean sleet second chance. You're going by another name. Some far off feeling, up close kind of ache. That instant karma always comes too late.
HERMES: Okay, maybe Monsters of Folk's are more disaffected than Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and perhaps a little less polished. But like many of the years' outstanding indie rock records — by Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors — the warmth and power of vocal harmonies are central to the Monsters of Folk record, and not in any single way. The men may be folkies on one song, rockers on another, and at one point, they do a halfway decent impression of The Impressions.
(Soundbite of song, "Dear God")
MONSTERS OF FOLK: (Singing) Well, I've been thinking about and I've been breaking it down without answer. I know I'm thinking aloud, but if your love's still around why do we suffer? Why do we suffer?
HERMES: Beyond the singing, Monsters of Folk has three of rock's best songwriters working at the top of their game. Some songs have one man's imprint, like this one with lead vocals by M. Ward.
(Soundbite of song, "Sandman, the Brakeman and Me")
Mr. M. WARD (Band Member, Monsters of Folk): (Singing) Roll on Roll on, oh, little train. Brakeman blow your whistle, throw you weight upon the chain. Oh, make Way, whatever will be will be. The sandman, the brakeman, and me.
HERMES: Other songs seem like real collaborative efforts, and they work a few thematic threads. One is the idea of God, and another related theme is war.
(Soundbite of song, "His Master's Voice")
MONSTERS OF FOLK: (Singing) Sweet soldier boy, the speaker's bleeding. He hears his master's voice. Do you hear your master's voice calling like the lady siren's call?
HERMES: Monsters of Folk might be addressing big themes, but there's little certainty in their lyrics. In that way, they feel less like a supergroup and more like, I don't know, a therapy group, although far more musical than any of the ones I've been in.
(Soundbite of song, "The Right Place")
MONSTERS OF FOLK: (Singing) You're in the right place.
BRAND: Will Hermes reviewed the debut album from the supergroup Monsters of Folk. You can hear tracks from the album at nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song, "The Right Place")
MONSTERS OF FOLK: (Singing) I'm in the right place. I'm in the right place.
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