Earlier in the year London’s Mumford & Sons released their debut album Sigh No More in the United States. I put it on for a listen, intrigued by the title track and ‘The Cave’, and I was delighted to find one of those rare albums that you can listen to on loop 3-4 times in a go. Reading that, it sounds a little absurd, but in all honesty that’s how taken I was with this album upon first listen.
The sound is folk-based, to be sure, but much harder than any folk music I’d previously been exposed to. It’s a surprisingly loud record for the most part, with a handful of calmer tracks to slow the pace down where needed. Some tracks are so fast I think it would even be fair to characterize them as “frantic,” albeit positively so. The best example would have to be ‘Little Lion Man‘, which has seen a ton of success on Australian charts, and is even getting fairly heavy rotation on my local radio station.
It’s a little unfair to post that song first, because it is the climax of the album. The two tracks leading up to it (the melancholy, urgent, ‘White Blank Page’ and the song ‘I Gave You All’ that builds from quiet regret to seething rage) are fantastic precursors to ‘Little Lion Man’, which tells a tragic tale of cowardice and regret. The guitars are fast, and the banjos faster, and Marcus Mumford and company really shine on this larger-than-life song.
Tracks like ‘Winter Winds’ and the title track are perhaps a little more fair representation of the record. ‘Sigh No More’ begins with a wandering, plodding sound, until some switch is tripped at around the halfway mark, launching into an emphatic folk-explosion in defense of
the beauty of love, as it was meant to be
The weakest track is ‘Timshel’, which wastes too much time in a lilting, boring place, and never really takes off to any emotional or lyrical point of interest. ‘Thistle & Weeds’ is a fairly dramatic track for how late it occurs in the album, having a nice counterpart in the gritty, soulful, confessional of ‘Dustbowl Dance’.
Rounding out the record is ‘After the Storm’, which aptly comes after a turbulent set of tracks that go fast, go slow, get excited, become furious… calling it a “storm” isn’t that far of a stretch. The tune is a really pretty bookend to ‘Sigh No More’, and it shows Mumford and Sons in a rare moment of complete control (as opposed to the folk-rock tears that are exactly why this album is so good), and it pays off.
Sigh No More is a terrific debut album from passionate group of musicians who seem earnest and passionate about their work.
A Brief Aside: I usually page through reviews of an album before I decide to invest time in listening to it, as well as after, to see how my experience compared. In this case, it was curious to see that reviewers either loved the album, or harshly slapped it with some term roughly equivalent to “derivative.” The comparison that comes up most often is to the Fleet Foxes.
I just wanted to go on the record saying that I find such a comparison to be baseless, nearly to the point of being absurd. Sure, both groups draw on folk music for their ‘sound’, and while I do love the Fleet Foxes (honorable mention for 2008’s Top 5), I just don’t get it. We’re really going to sit here and pretend to compare ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ to ‘The Cave’? I’m supposed to believe that ‘Your Protector’ is the analog to ‘Little Lion Man’? Have we ever heard the Fleet Foxes get even remotely angry? No.
Comparing the two isn’t unfair so much as it is useless. If I’m missing something here, though, feel free to let me know via comment.