I've wasted countless hours of my life playing videogames, so it's no surprise that I can best relate to the new Monsters of Folk album via Katamari, the videogame I'm currently more or less obsessed with. In the game, a Katamari is a sticky ball that collects anything and everything in the world starting with small ingredients like hot dogs, before snowballing its way over farm animals, cars, and eventually countries and planets. MOF acts like a musical Katamari, clumping up "Folk" heroes Conor "Bright Eyes" Oberst, M. "She & Him" Ward, Jim "My Morning Jacket" James and Mike "Saddle Creek" Mogis into a cohesive if uneven ball of sound. In the same way that it's difficult to keep a Katamari round when you roll over a rectangular object like a cow, it's equally a challenge for MOF to blend the bloody heart-on-sleeve poetry of Bright Eyes with the trippy reverb of My Morning Jacket.
On opener "Dear God," the group sound more like Monsters of Funk, with the quartet taking turns spewing sincerity to the lord above with a hip-hop backbeat. Though the contrast pays off in this album highlight, the mixed directions of MOF aren't always as rewarding. Tracks like "Baby Boomer," deliver catchy sing-alongs that are entertaining but not engaging. "Boomer" hints at topics like censorship and loving your neighbors, but it never digs as deep as its authors are capable of.
MOF's greatest achievements lie in their ability to collaborate vocally, leading to layered arrangements where gorgeous backing vocals command more attention than the main vocals of many artists. For four icons, the boys do a surprisingly good job sharing the spotlight, as Oberst and Ward drive the beginning of the album and James and Mogis thrive in a strong finish. As it is in Katamari, the variances of MOF could be wrongfully interpreted as a ball of random crap, but there are lots of unexpected pleasures to be found in this rare combination if you're willing to overlook the cow sticking out the side.