Monsters of Folk might seem like an inappropriate moniker for indie darlings Jim James, M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Oberst collaborator Mike Mogis.
The supergroup kicks off its self-titled debut with a number that might fit more comfortably in the genre of Christian R&B pop: “Sometimes it’s so hard to believe in/But God, I know you have your reasons,” sing James, Ward, and Oberst on “Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)”
But childlike faith gives way to adolescent rebellion on “Baby Boomer,” teachable strife on “Man Named Truth,” and finally cheerful optimism on “The Sandman, the Brakeman, and Me.”
Throughout, Ward’s steady whisper more or less splits the difference between Oberst’s quavering warble and James’s empyreal crooning—a good blend for three guys with such distinct voices.
The music separates more easily: M. Ward’s fetish for old-timey surf pop rises to the surface on “Whole Lotta Losin’,” while Oberst’s existential, image-dense writing is put front and center on “Temazcal” and “Map of the World,” and James puts on a mellow buzz with “Goodway” and “Magic Marker.”
Lyrically, the album is about becoming OK with the world and yourself. “No split hair’s gonna get me down,” pledges Oberst. “Make way, for whatever will be will be,” advises Ward. “There’s something sweet waiting in the center/Taste and see,” says James, as the others respond in perfect harmony, picking easily at their guitars as Mogis (whose role is mainly track-mixing and strategic Dobro deployment ) pats a benevolent backbeat. The band illustrates this journey toward acceptance in Crayola, and helpfully offers that the trip requires little more than a few joints and a full tank of gas.