I think I was the only person who was a little underwhelmed when Mumford and Sons released their acclaimed debut Sigh No More.
Yeah, okay, it was very pretty, and chock full of harmonies that would make Fleet Foxes cry. There were wonderful moments like “The Cave” and of course the track that made its way to number 1 on Triple J’s hottest 100, “Little Lion Man”. In fact, I enjoyed, more or less, every track on the record. What I didn’t like about the album was that it felt contrived. It was more about the Mumford and Sons name, the faux business that they run, the Gentlemen of the Road concept and playing a bunch of gothic instruments with no single band member staying at one instrument for the entire show. It felt as though the band were too focused on their indie image and street cred, but not enough on crafting music that they wanted to create.
That’s something I really despise in some indie bands in this day and age.
However, there was one way for the band to prove that they’re more than they seemed. They needed to release a sophomore album that not only trumped the first collection of songs, but also continued the persona that the band had designed in Sigh No More.
They did that.
Album opener, “Babel”, immediately plunges you into the thick of Mumford and Sons’ rich sphere that they construct so cohesively and carefully. The heavy use of stringed instruments in tandem with the rolling, marching percussion creates a perpetual sense of relaxed urgency, which is only compounded upon by the harsh vocalization of Marcus Mumford.
“I know the time is numbered my days/now go along way with everything you say” is the lyric that opens the record, and it seems fitting. Mumford and Sons are aware of their place in the grander musical scheme, they are one band, who will, in good time, be replaced by another band, who in turn will be replaced.
“Whispers in the Dark” starts off in a slower more relaxed Mumford style before breaking into the big bridges we know the band for. However it also indicates the first notable use of electronic instruments for a band that are recognized as largely acoustic. Debut single from the release “I Will Wait” has the most chance of being their charting hit as it employs all the same features that its logical predecessor “Little Lion Man” utilised.
Personally, my favorite track on the record comes in the form of the piano driven “Hopeless Wanderer” in which, Mumford delicately laments the difficulties of overcoming depression amongst other things. The crescendo that the track builds into, however, is arguably the greatest moment on the record, filled to the brim with raw emotion and powerful intertwining melodies. The lyricism throughout the entire album is perfect, as Mumford manages to craft compelling stories and picturesque landscapes.
Mumford and Sons really shine when they are capturing darkness in their music. “Broken Crown” is a prime example of the gothic-gypsy influence that is so prominent in Mumford’s timbre. It’s quite similar to the darkened sonics which bands like Dark Dark Dark and Fleet Foxes produce in their best moments.
On the whole, this is a pretty strong release. My only criticism could be that it’s a bit too same same. Mumford and sons could be more than this, they’re a bit prone to repeating strumming patterns and utilising the same sonic devices over and over again.
It’s not ground breaking, but it’s certainly solidifying. This record will allow me, along with the rest of the skeptics, to be at peace with who this band really are.