Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Monsters of Folk, "Monsters of Folk" (Shangri-La) [2 OUT OF 4 STARS]

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Throughout rock history, one of the rarest entities is the supergroup that succeeds at being more than the sum of its celebrated parts, and it doesn't help that this one--comprised of Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of emo heroes Bright Eyes, M. Ward of M. Ward and She & Him and Yim Yames (a.k.a. Jim James) of My Morning Jacket--has one of the goofiest names of any of them, reportedly bestowed upon the hipster heroes by a roadie.

The casual spontaneity that may have characterized these musicians' original hootenanny-like collaborations in 2004 is replaced by necessity with a more formal, hence joyless approach on their first studio album. Yet while there are scattered moments of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-style cohesion--with Ward in the role of Neil Young, contributing the strongest songs made even better by the others' vocal contributions--these are far outnumbered by weaker toss-offs (with Oberst's "Man Named Truth" standing as the nadir) which gain nothing from the assembled star power.

Faced with a song that pretentious and abysmal, you'd think one of Oberst's fellow songwriters would have suggested canning the tune. But if the monsters stayed mum about the more lackluster fare presented for this disc because they were over-awed by one another's talents, they've given us few reasons to be similarly impressed.

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Can someone explain to me the genius of Connor Oberst? I find him punishing to listen to. I tried to give him a chance and have purchased two bright eye’s CD’s (lifted… and I’m Wide Awake…). Neither does anything positive for me. I did not like either disc when I got them, but I know my listening tastes change over time and occasionally I try to listen to them again. But it never clicks, in fact I find myself getting angry listening to these, angry for wasting the money and angry that I know how bad they sound yet I put them on anyway. So please explain why I should like him or why he is good. If it is a matter of the lyrics, I don’t get it, they are mundane and uninspiring. Is it the music? If it is maybe I need my hearing checked out.

@ Mark -

There's really no reason for you to like Conor Oberst if you don't like the music he plays. And if you don't like the music, why in the hell would you waste your money buying it? Listen to it on Rhapsody before you buy it and make your decision then.

As for me, I'm quite lukewarm to him. I really liked his first solo record, but the new one's garbage. I like about half of Wide Awake, although I'd still contend that "First Day of My Life," despite its pretension and preciousness, is a really lovely song and worth the price of admission alone. Oberst's problem, in my opinion, is that, like so many hipster buzz artists, he's started buying into his own hype. He has a knack for writing catchy melodies (the afore-mentioned tune and "I Don't Wanna Die (in a hospital)" standing foremost among them), but I absolutely agree with you on his lyrics. Again, that's not always the rule, but his best contributions come melody-wise, and even that is up-and-down with the artist.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, while I don't agree wholly with your Oberst assessment, he is insanely overrated by the hipster crowd. But really, don't waste your time and money if you already don't like him, 'cause I don't think he's going to change much. If you're looking for something folky that sounds completely different, you'd be better off ponying up the dough for the second Bishop Allen full-length or latter-day Gorky's Zygotic Mynci records.

I don't waste my money on him any more. I picked up the two CD's I have at about the same time for very low prices, thinking that even if overratted it can't be that overratted and I had purchased a bargain. That being said I usually test out a few songs before I buy, but not in this case. Oh well.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on September 25, 2009 9:43 AM.

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