Band of Bombast
On Mumford & Sons’ debut record, Sigh No More, a quartet of London folkies led by singer and guitarist Marcus Mumford confront two challenges head on that still confound experienced, established artists: how to reach an audience accustomed to electronic instruments when your music is largely acoustic, and how to express passionate emotion from a man’s perspective.
The band, which includes Ted Dwane on acoustic bass, Ben Lovett on keyboards, and Country Winston on banjo and dobro, makes short work of the first challenge, kicking up a ruckus on many songs. “Little Lion Man,” the album’s first single, is a rousing number about blown opportunities. With the band blowing full tilt behind Mumford, he spits out the key lines of the chorus: “I really fucked it up this time, / didn’t I, my dear?”
An attractive aspect of the band’s sound is its frequent use of men singing in unison. Opening title track and “Timeshel” feature a four-part harmony and on other songs all four band members simply belt it out.
Considering that the band only formed in late 2007, it’s been productive, releasing three EPs already, but there are signs that the musicians don’t yet have command of their materials. This slackness is chiefly apparent in the lyrics, which neither approximate how people actually talk nor rise to the level of poetry. In “Sigh No More,” for example, Mumford sings, “Oh man is a giddy thing,” which might go over well at a nurturing open mic night but is no less absurd than the malarkey screeched by metal castrati. And “The Cave” includes the line, “So tie me to a post and block my ears,” an ordeal which is unlikely to resonate with the audience.
Basically, the band falls flat when it tries to sound poetic, but, given a plausible narrative and terse lyrics, as on “Dust Bowl Dance,” it has potential.