By Chris Moore:
RATING: 3.5 / 5 stars
Critics and fans alike have been talking about Mumford & Sons an awful lot this year, more than any other new artist with the obvious exception of Justin Bieber. But…
Do I even need to explain why these two cannot and should not be compared?
While I haven’t contributed my voice to the Sigh No More fanfare, there is no question that, out of those nominated, they deserve the “New Artist” Grammy. On their debut album, the band has established a characteristic sound that is both unique and rooted in traditional music. At times, as on “Little Lion Man,” it is clear that this is a contemporary band, their music unlike what you’ve heard before. At others, as on “Timshel,” it’s as though you’re listening to a weathered pub band run through a traditional ballad they’ve played a hundred times before.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Mumford & Sons is how much attention they have gained for a band that relies on such strongly acoustic arrangements. Unlike others this year, like Phil Selway who went acoustic in a stripped-down, melancholy manner, Mumford & Sons have managed to add verve to what might otherwise be a gritty, folky aura.
One listen to a track like “Dust Bowl Dance” will reveal a blurring of the lines between what is acoustic and what is rock music. Certainly, the term “acoustic rock” and its connotative effects do not properly express “Dust Bowl Dance.”
Elsewhere, as on “After the Storm,” the band reveals a softer side, more in tune with the expectations of an acoustic song. That tenderness is present throughout the album: in the raw vulnerability of the title track, the harmonies on “White Blank Page,” and the blunt confessional chorus of “Little Lion Man.”
The overall tone of Sigh No More is decidedly weathered, tortured, and this is upheld across the majority of tracks. The intro to “Winter Winds” — its fast-paced banjo picking and triumphant horns — is perhaps the closest Mumford & Sons get to upbeat songwriting, yet even on this track there is a feeling of having overcome great strife.
For such a young band, they pull off “weathered” and “tortured” remarkably well. For such a young man, Marcus Mumford’s vocals project the texture of years and hard-earned experience.
As strong and as original a sound as they have created, it is a bit too well established, verging on the predictable after a couple of tracks. Of course, there are deviations and standout songs — those mentioned above in particular, with the possible exception of “Timshel” — but this feeling of formulaic-ness is difficult to shake on an album-level.
This is the main reason I haven’t fallen in line with those praising Sigh No More, yet I would vote for Mumford & Sons in a heartbeat if I were given a “Best New Artist” Grammy ballot. As a debut, this is a remarkable effort. The electric guitars on the penultimate track “Dust Bowl Dance” hint strongly at what the future may hold for the band: great potential and development of their characteristic sound.