A few ingredients seem eternal when cooking up some music, like a good pulse, fresh harmonies, and the strength of an elevated chorus. Mumford and Sons sprinkle on a more than suitable amount of these things with Sigh No More
, a collection of uplifting, dazzling folk-pop tunes that is anything but sigh inducing. Mumford and Sons, like the name suggests, are a very proper bunch of Englishman who all descend from an aristocratic background (or are rumored to have come from such settings). The rumor fits; they really do excel at sounding like gentlemen even when cathartically shouting about having "f*cked it up this time". Quite the contrary, the popularity of the record and the band's live show suggest they got it right.
Most of the songs find themselves propelled by a single pulsing kick drum, overlaid with banjo passages and aggressive guitar riffs &mdash this configuration is the group at its absolute best. Mumford really soars when they get their harmonies working over a train-like momentum, like on opener "Sigh No More" or "Little Lion Man", where lead-singer Marcus Mumford croons half apologies with euphemisms galore (minus that one objectionable word). The swell is their secret weapon, it was almost too much for the tiny Mercury Lounge during CMJ '09, definitely too much for a packed Music Hall of Williamsburg a few months later, and just enough for the massive crowds at Lollapalooza. That's quite a progression for a young British act just jumping the pond, and it's not a coincidence. It's clear now the energy of the record's climaxes only resonate louder in the live setting.
Mumford likes to establish a contrast. They do this by trading tempos and quiet introductions for splashy cymbals and fanfare vocals with a flighty up-tempo chorus, giving the whole thing a delightfully antiquated tinge on top of the folks-y balladeering. Songs often feel like multiple movements. The tempo-swap in "Awake My Soul", and the come-up in "I Gave You All" are examples of their often flawless straddle between simmering and boiling. It's true "Thistle and Weeds" helps to show the (perhaps indirect) influence of jam bands like Dave Mathews, with mid-song swaps and the battle cry (rain down on me) amidst a caterwaul and a six-layer cake of controlled melodic panic, and it all sounds awfully familiar. The recipe may be borrowed, but it finds fresh application in their hands. And there is a reason we've been eating cake all these years.
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Concert: Mumford and Sons Live at Music Hall Of Williamsburg
MP3: "Little Lion Man"
Mumford and Sons on Myspace