- Vancouver, British Columbia - In March 2010, I was perusing through the iTunes Top 200 Alternative charts and near the bottom, I found this unknown band, Mumford & Sons with an explicit warning next to its track, "Little Lion Man." With a name like Mumford & Sons, my initial suspicion was that this was some old man group, but the explicit warning made me take a second look. Today in March 2011, Mumford & Sons is practically a household name, recently coming off of Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Song ("Little Lion Man"), and two singles, "Little Lion Man" and "The Cave" both performing very well on the charts.
Mumford & Sons is comprised of four English blokes (Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane), generally hailing from the Big Fog (read: London) and having made company with other folk acts like Noah and the Whale and Johnny Flynn. Marcus Mumford possess the role of lead vocals and while only being the tender age of 24, his voice sounds much older. He sings with a graveling depth, which sounds rather akin to something you'd expect from the band that plays every Tuesday night at the ol' English Pub around the corner. What sets his voice apart from just an ordinary pub band, however, is that his voice conveys a stronger sense of emotional vulnerability.
And perhaps this is what makes Sigh No More an incredible album. The lyricism and subject matter of its songs are profound on a level that is currently unmatched by any other songwriter today under 25 years old. Throughout the album, we hear of a soul that is spiritually seeking, but not in the lame sense that every hipster today is claiming to be spiritual. This seeker makes no pretensions of being enlightened or connected with himself, but instead speaks of his checkered past and the pain that has been suffered in his quest. It is one of the most attractive qualities about this album.
I've written perhaps too much about how discouraging it is from a music lover's perspective that so much of the music being released by the mainstream record labels is over produced. Mumford and Sons doesn't make that same mistake. There is a raw folk sound to their recordings. Marcus Mumford doesn't hit every note perfectly, and if he did, then we'd have reason to be suspicious. This is an honest, transparent record.
Among the most impressive tracks on the album is "Little Lion Man," which is probably the song that most would recognize. While some might feel uncomfortable with Marcus Mumford's use of the word "fuck," I believe it adds so much to the song. It demonstrates an honest emotion on the part of songwriter; one that doesn't ask itself, "should I be honest about what I am trying to express, or should I switch the word out for the radio?" Most other uses of the word "fuck" in music today, unfortunately, appears to be more for image and establishing street cred on the part of nincompoops like 50 Cent, Lil' Wayne and Insane Clown Posse.
Also impressive is "Awake My Soul," which is a call to awaken one's self to the life ahead of them, while dealing with insecurities, weaknesses and pain. Many times when bands try to speak about such topics, it comes off as sappy or overly emotional, yet Mumford & Sons managed to find a good balance on this track. Ending the record is "After The Storm," which is placed very well in the context of the album. It acts as a fitting epilogue to the themes explored by Marcus Mumford and his emotional journey throughout the album.
Sigh No More, simply put, is a great album, and worthy of all the praise that has been given to it recently. I say without reservation that it is the best album to come out in the past year from the mainstream music industry. There simply is no comparison in a year marked by repetitive pop and hip-hop acts that have contributed little to nothing to the future's memory of music in 2010.
NB: If you have any desire to see Mumford & Sons live, good luck. Their two previous shows in Vancouver both sold out within 5 minutes. Lame.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes