Review Summary: Delivering folk - and the banjo - to the masses.
When an artist attempts to bring a non-mainstream style of music to the masses, you can practically hear the cynics clearing their throat in anticipation of chanting "you sold out". Yet, one theory suggests that if a band can deliver a niche genre to the mainstream populous, they should be applauded for having the talent to achieve what few others have previously done. One such genre is folk, and while the likes of Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes have spearheaded a resurgence in all things folksy, this has been more from a critical viewpoint rather than in the popularity stakes. Things could be about to change however, with the emergence of London quartet Mumford & Sons. Call them nu-folk of folk-pop if you like, but if lead single 'Little Lion Man' is anything to go by, then the world could soon become their oyster.
Complete with one of the catchiest sing-along choruses of the past five years, 'Little Lion Man' is backed by a bluegrass banjo-led hoedown that makes it difficult for anyone to stay still. And while the lead single is the clear highlight, this is by no means a one-song LP. The intense and noisy climax of the Manchester Orchestra like 'Dustbowl Dance' will also have most singing along, while 'White Blank Page' impresses similarly. That said, this debut also contains many a slower and sparse moment to win over the purists. In fact, one of the album's strengths is its wise track ordering, which has a kind of one-up/one-down pattern in terms of pace and volume. No matter what the type of track, nothing outstays its welcome, making 'Sigh No More' a relatively easy listen from start to finish.
The opening title track instantly showcases the quartet's impressive group vocal harmonies, but as the album progresses it is lead vocalist (and guitarist) Marcus Mumford who takes center stage. He has just enough of that "common man" quality to not only connect with the audience, but also sell the overly uplifting lyrics which do tend to get a little repetitive and grate come the end of the LP. While it is definitely pleasing to hear a folk album that is anything but depressing, lyrics such as "plant your hope with good seed, don't cover yourself with thistle & weeds" only work up until a certain stage in proceedings.
All great albums need an X-factor and in the case of 'Sigh No More' it comes in the form of producer Markus Dravs. Dravs had a major influence on Bjork's critically acclaimed 1997 release 'Homogenic', while being predominantly overlooked for his work on Coldplay's 2008 surprise 'Viva La Vida...'. What Dravs brings to 'Sigh No More' is some grandiose variety, a trait often ignored on folk albums. Horns can be heard on 'The Cave', there is a trumpet solo on 'Winter Winds', strings on 'White Blank Page', and piano plays a key role on 'Dustbowl Dance'. Furthermore, (similarly to Arcade Fire, who Dravs has also worked with) practically every track builds up in a rousing fashion, even some of those aforementioned slower and sparse cuts.
As always with an album that attempts to bring some accessibility to a niche genre, 'Sigh No More' is certain to have its detractors. Weaknesses such as being too slick, repetitive lyrics and a rigid song structure will be brought up, as will the tiresome debate over the band's upbringing. However, one needs to also keep in mind that this is a debut LP by a rather young quartet. The room for improvement only makes this consistent, catchy and accessible album all the more successful. And seriously, who can dislike an album that brings the banjo a level of popularity not seen since 1972 film 'Deliverance' was nominated for three Academy Awards? Oh, and by the way, there are thankfully no pig squeals here!
Recommended Tracks: Little Lion Man, Dustbowl Dance, White Blank Page & Winter Winds.
Yes, I was, in fact I already have half of it written up.
i think its still legit to post mine, I'll just be critiscising it a lot more because of the repetitiveness of the whole thing. I listened to this like 3 or 4 times and I only remember a few tracks, the rest blur together.
Not for me unfortunately, I listened to a song and was like "OK, this has gone for 2 minutes and shows no signs of becoming more active. FINALLY!"
*a minute passes*
"Oh, it got more active, like every other song, damn."
Excellent review, Davey. While I enjoyed the read, it seems as though you enjoyed it more than what your rating suggests, and ends up reading more like a 4/5 or slightly higher. I have the same favorite tracks as you, although I prefer White Blank Page over Little Lion Man.
It's difficult to know if you'll like this Croc. In fact, it's difficult to pick who will like it & who won't. I was even surprised at myself for liking it to this extent.
Yeah Michael, they do over-use the rousing climax a little too much. But I see the glass as half full there. I'd rather too many of them, rather than none of them... Which is usually what the genre presents.
Thanks gyro... And I just knew that someone was going to say "seems like a 4 review". Congrats, you win the race!
Ummm, I guess I glossed over the weaknesses a little too quickly. But they do exist and while I can forgive most of them because this is a debut, I can't ignore them when rating the album. Also, I think I sound more positive than I actually am because I am a little surprised I liked it so much. But don't get me wrong, this is a solid 3.5. Closer to a 4, than a 3 for me.
Could well be Michael... But many a great band have appeared the same with just a debut album to show as evidence. The jury is out on that one & I think that the fact that there is more than just 1 very good song on here could be a good sign for the band.
Yes, I can see where you're coming from, I do hope that their next album expands a little more upon their sound and perhaps experiments a little. They've gotten the attention they need, now let's see what they can really do.