Monday, 19 October 2009

What The Folk Is Going On?!

Is it just me or is the hippy-folk constabulary starting to take over the world? There are fur gilets in the shops, people wear hairbands across their foreheads, and there are indie-folk bands emerging everywhere you look...Noah and the Whale, Fleet Foxes, Howie Beck, and one of the newer additions Mumford and Sons, whose new album 'Sigh No More' I impulsively bought a couple of days ago. Now, I used to think of folk music as being made by a lot of hairy people with tambourines. I suppose this can still be the case, but it's not always the benign pro-tree-hugging thing I thought it was. Sometimes these 'folk' folk get angry!

So, if I had such a limited knowledge of folk, why did I buy this album? Well, for one, the title track 'Sigh No More' was an i-Tunes record of the week last month, which is often a sign of something interesting as they tend to have a pretty good pick of new bands. This was coupled with my listening to Dave Berry's Xfm show where the band's first single 'Little Lion Man' was played every day as I drove home from work, and it kind of wormed its way into my head and wouldn't leave! I have to admit I wasn't crazy about the song the first couple of times I heard it, but now it cannot be on the radio without the volume being cranked up - because it's a very good song, and so that I can shout 'fuck' really loudly! I hoped that perhaps the rest of the album would provide as much fun, but before I decide on that, just who are Mumford and Sons? (I just know you were wondering the same thing...)

Mumford and Sons are a four-piece band from west London, comprised of Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums), Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, dobro), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, organ), and Ted Dwane (vocals, double bass). You see that? A banjo, dobro, organ and double bass! Amazing! All that's missing is maybe a xylophone and an accordian and they will have featured all of the coolest musical instruments. The variation makes for a much more original and richer sound than the standard drums, lead and bass guitar combo, particularly in the musical interludes which are surprisingly powerful - I never thought it would be possible to rock out to a banjo, but there you go. They formed late in 2007 and have supported acts like Laura Marling on tour, but after the acclaim they have received so far they are now touring Europe in their own right.

So, back to the album. I can sum up my reaction to it in one word - impressed. It's not folk as I knew it from my old hippie idea, or even from contemporaries around at the moment. It has the ability to shift from calm to uplifting, from a thigh-slapping hoe down to angered heartbreak. 'I Gave You All' is like folk music that's been made after someone has tried to steal the band's favourite tambourine. Or banjo. 'Sigh No More', in contrast, is very uplifting and life affirming. Mumford has an incredible voice, that is both powerful and raspy, but also capable of being soft and soothing, with some of the harmonies sounding as velvety as Fleet Foxes before launching into an auditory onslaught that is more like Kings of Leon. It is impossible to get bored when the tracks have such peaks and troughs like this, so while a few of the tracks start off quite slowly and you find yourself considering switching to the next one, it's so worth bearing with the build up as they are all superb once they get going.

All in all, then, I would congratulate Mumford and Sons with a very successful album, which I can honestly see joining my staple car CD collection - only the best ones make it there! And, from my previously less-than-enthusiastic view of folk music, there is no one more surprised than me that they have made it there. The next step is for me to don my fur gilet (well, I'll have to buy one first) and chunky-knit jumper and go see them do it live!

Mumford and Sons, 'Sigh No More' - 4.5/5