When M. Ward, Mike Mogis, Jim James, and Conor Oberst announced plans to record together, fans were quick to link the supergroup to the Traveling Wilburys, who blazed a similarly star-studded path 20 years prior. Truth be told, Monsters of Folk's emphasis on harmony vocals and atmospheric arrangements has just as much in common with the work of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, even if the political concerns that grounded the latter group are largely absent here. Instead, the self-titled MONSTERS OF FOLK tackles religion, nature, love, and lust, with all four songwriters sharing vocals and songwriting duties. Mogis, who rose to prominence by playing a central but somewhat surreptitious role in Bright Eyes, receives slightly less screen time than the others, preferring instead to remain behind the scenes as producer and sideman. Even so, his guitar solo during "Say Please" is one of the album's loudest, rawest moments, and his production helps draw connections between the album's slew of songwriting styles and genres. "Folk" is defined broadly here, as the album encompasses everything from trip-hop to roots-rock to homely, homespun pop. Spread over fifteen tracks, the combination wears thin at several points, and several songs feel more like their creator's solo work than a composite product. MONSTERS OF FOLK has moments on undeniable beauty, though, and when the musicians pitch their voices atop one another--as they do to notable effect on the gorgeous "Slow Down Jo"--the benefits of teamwork are more than clear.
Rolling Stone (p.65) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "James', Oberst's and Ward's voices meld beautifully in a variety of styles..."
Spin (p.84) - "Oberst, Ward, and James trade lead vocals on a few tunes and weave haunting harmonies throughout, but it's not difficult to discern who the lead actor is on each cut."
Entertainment Weekly (p.59) - "James is the goofball genius here, dishing out hilarious nonsense..." -- Grade: B
Alternative Press (p.106) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "The most interesting songs show off how surprisingly well Oberst's unrefined warble melds with James' liquid-smooth falsetto..."
CMJ - "[T]he music on their self-titled debut is powerful and consistent, highlighting everything we love about the four individuals in a fresh, new package."
Billboard (p.36) - "When viewed less as a hipster supergroup and more of an old-fashioned song swap, Monsters of Folk live up to their hype and then some."
Q (Magazine) (p.109) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he barroom rollicking of 'Say Please' and 'Losin Yo Head' evoke a real sense of all-for-one rock romance."
Clash (magazine) - "Full of emotion and fresh ideas, they deliver some neat country-folk tracks....Throughout, the cascading guitars and careful production all work really well..."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.92) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "MONSTERS OF FOLK seems to have encouraged a raising of the group's collective game."