Review: Mumford and Sons 'Sigh No More'

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** (FOUR)/5

Vested interest: I had classes with Marcus Mumford when I was a first-year classicist, on the rare occasion that he turned up. He dropped out after first year, so we will never see how great a Hellenist Mumford would have become. Academia’s loss is The Sons’ gain, however, as the debut Mumfs LP hits ears at last, proving that Mumford is a keener student of songcraft than Cicero.

Recalling such modern standards as ‘Wonderwall’ (‘White Blank Page’), Arcade Fire’s ‘Power Out’ (‘Little Lion Man’) and the recent Broken Records oeuvre (passim, but especially the top-notch jig ‘Winter Winds’), the songs, some perhaps written in Pollock Halls 2006/7, skirt close to pal Charlie ‘Noah and the Whale’ Fink. Both share vocal mannerisms and an obsession with the heart and soul, words writ large on the record and chiming with the idiom of the aforementioned Great Pop Songs.

Musically, the banjo dominates the album, working brilliantly on ‘Winter Winds’ but less well on the title track. White Blank Page (“loving you with my whole heart”) incorporates tremolando strings brilliantly undercutting an impassioned vocal; when it threatens to break into duple time, a four-part wordless harmony closes the song, and the longing for the girl continues. Mumford’s a great student of his genre, and such harmonies come close to matching those of Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, the Christ figures of the Cabin Indie movement. Little Lion Man, which sees Mumford soliloquising to his own courage (“it was your heart on the line”), is a late entrant for Most Harmonious Curse on record this decade, and ‘Timshel’ sounds like it’s been recorded in sub-zero temperatures, the band escaping the cold by means of sumptuous harmonies to create an Appalachian Sex and the City, with the punchline laying bare Mumford’s mortality.

The lyrics, where prosody is preferred to rhyme, are sometimes clunky (something about apathy clunks on ‘I Gave You All’) but mostly promising: “You were made to meet your maker” on ‘Awake My Soul’ is elegiac, matching the track’s musicality and dispelling the gloom of the long crotches and cavernous piano of ‘Thistle and Wind’; at 22, Mumford has realised love is a game (“Your beauty trumped my doubt” on ‘Winter Winds’) as well as how to use dynamics and tonality to blistering effect: ‘I Gave You All’ resolutely sticks to the minor key despite threatening to modulate into a major key, giving the heartstrings an extra tug. ‘Roll Away your Stone’ is goosepimple-y fab and melancholic in the payoff (“you’ve gone too far… to take this soul that is so rightfully mine”), and is the song by which all other Mumfs songs will be judged.

The LP isn’t Marcus’ magnum opus just yet but, given time to blossom, the seeds of his talents should propel him to the post of pinup of the post-Myspace generation, and overtake Justin Vernon as the flagbearer of Cabin Indie. Gigs will be spiritually transcendent with Mumford and Sons, so get the next best thing and support Edinburgh-inspired elegies such as these on a barnstorming bounty of an LP.

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