Sigh No More
by Scott Lensing
Slowly gaining buzz over the year prior to the release of their first album, Mumford and Sons finally debuted their first full-length LP, Sigh No More, in October of 2009. The “folk ‘n’roll” band had gained a spot in a forward-looking December 2008 list constructed by BBC entitled “Sound of 2009,” which included fourteen other artists, the likes of Lady Gaga, Kid Cudi, and Passion Pit included. Mumford and Sons’ anthemic style perhaps makes their inclusion in this list less bizarre, but only slightly. The Londoners instead sound a bit like Appalachian transports who have settled in the Amercian Northwest, their music recalling Americana colored with wisps of harmonious chamber pop.
Sigh No More draws its strength from the pairing of lead singer Marcus Mumford’s gently coarse voice with the band’s textured instrumentation, often consisting of banjo, mandolin, organ, and double bass contributions. Every song is voluminous, with layers of strummed chords, jammed piano keys, and stroked strings. Comparisons to The Low Anthem’s songwriting are not altogether unreasonable, though Mumford and Sons never reach nearly as dark of depths in their own lyrical exploration. Similarly, the Fleet Foxes have been another name thrown into the comparison mix, and yet the harmonies of Mumford and Sons are not the focal point on the record.
The most apt connection could be to The Avett Brothers, and not just because of notes of bluegrass pervasive in their sound. Sigh No More brims with sincerity, each song passionately delivered to an audience all-too-knowing of Mumford’s past joy and tumult. Lyrics sound as if they are ripped from the pages of the singer’s diary, earnestly directed at a listener whom it would behoove to take heed. On an album highlight, “Roll Away Your Stone,” Mumford encourages “roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine,” emphasizing that he not do it alone, “For I am afraid of what I will discover inside.” Much seems at stake, for Mumford’s audience as well as himself.
Every song on Sigh No More is intensely introspective, with Mumford reflecting on his own misgivings with tinges of regret while maintaining an underlying hopefulness. In “Timshel,” the singer constantly conveys his steadfast supportiveness, a theme that is equally strong in the album’s first single, “The Cave.” “I won’t let you choke/On the noose around your neck/And I’ll find strength in pain/And I will change my ways” Mumford cries sympathetically, seeking desperate affirmation. “White Blank Page” and “I Gave You All” bemoan relationships of loving investment that receive less than their proper due, both of which fall into a favored route on Sigh No More—the quick crescendo that maintains its vigor for the majority of several songs. “Awake My Soul” follows this pattern, but with a more gradual and tempered effect.
Like the aforementioned North Carolina folk trio, though, Mumford and Sons seem to have suffered from a bit too much work in the studio, which has rendered a highly-polished product that has in all likelihood lost much of the intimacy associated with their live shows. Previous EPs from 2008 present a closer, though perhaps less accessible, sound from which the band has drifted. Mumford and Sons certainly demand an ear, though their message is better delivered at a show than in the studio.