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Monsters of Folk: Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La) 

In moments of cynicism, blasphemous notions pop into my head. One example: There should be a one-month hiatus on all new bands. However, should such a fascistic ban occur, projects like Monsters of Folk might not be born, and the world would be a much darker place.

The artists behind Monsters of Folk are by no means new—it's Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, and M. Ward—but the blend of their aesthetics and talents offers a master class in supergroups. All four musicians play and sing on all of the songs, which they all helped write and record. Instead of sounding like a lumpy blend of styles, Monsters of Folk sounds like an album from a new band with four familiar members.

At times, the songs' original authors are evident, but what would have been a decent Oberst or James or Ward song gets amplified by the other musicians' influences. The best songs, though, are the ones whose creator remains unclear, like the first track, "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)," with its '70s pop soundscape. (Are those harps?)

On "Baby Boomer," they trade off vocal lines to create a 21st-century version of one of Bob Dylan's surreal blues songs. And then there's the simple fact that the musicians' voices just plain sound amazing together: See "Slow Down Jo" and "Say Please." Those vocal blends alone are enough to shake even the most cynical person out of an anti-new-band stupor.

More by Annie Holub

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