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Andy Whitman

Mumford & Sons

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The trouble with Babel is that it is exactly like the first album. I detected some new sounds--an electric guitar power chord here and some Coldplay-esque keyboards(!) there--but essentially, these songs are identical to those on Sigh No More. The "quiet, whispered opening paired with LOUD, FOUR-ON-THE-FLOOR PAYOFF!!" songs really wear out their welcome here.

As for the lyrics, I understand what everyone is saying. There are some real clunkers on this album, as on the previous one. However, I think there are some good lyrics too, on both records. The problem is that the bad lyrics are more obvious, and they overshadow the decent ones.

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I'm indifferent to the band, and always have been (yes, even before they became super popular). I've heard enough of their tunes to find them catchy and very same-y.

Someone I follow on Twitter posted this scathing blog post. I don't know enough of M&S's music to say how accurate this is, but I at least appreciate the comment that calls the band "a kind of musical Pinterest," which seems about right to me.

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I really liked about half of Sigh No More, and I didn't hate the rest-- which was enough for me to put down the money for that album. Based on the first single, I will not be buying this one. I agree with many of Jeffrey's criticisms of the band. They seem to be a one trick pony (quiet, slow beginning with harmonies, eruption into galloping beat, reverse and repeat) and while I do enjoy that one trick, it's not sufficient to sustain my interest over a whole album with so little creativity in the individual songs.

Jeffrey mentioned his bewilderment that Laura Marling is so closely associated with these guys. I agree-- she's on another artistic plane. Similarly, I cannot begin to fathom why this band has such a bigger audience, at this point, than the Avett Brothers. In this particular style of music, the Avetts are John Lennon, and Mumford and Sons are Julian Lennon-- on his first album, no less!

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Similarly, I cannot begin to fathom why this band has such a bigger audience, at this point, than the Avett Brothers.

You answered this yourself, actually. People prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. Lather, rinse, repeat. If one song gives you a good feeling, that formula will start giving you that good feeling. It's U2's biggest weakness as well.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Similarly, I cannot begin to fathom why this band has such a bigger audience, at this point, than the Avett Brothers.

You answered this yourself, actually. People prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. Lather, rinse, repeat. If one song gives you a good feeling, that formula will start giving you that good feeling. It's U2's biggest weakness as well.

Jeffrey, I certainly agree with your larger point whole-heartedly, but I don't think that U2 has ever even begun to approach the level of mind-numbling sameness that M & S regularly displays. I do see U2's temptation towards simply aping and re-aping their "classic U2" sound at times, but I think they have done pretty well in resisting that temptation. I know that a lot of people here were not really in love with their last album, but I thought that "Moment of Surrender" was a genuine step forward, musically, for them and worth the price of the whole disc. I do wish that more of the album had been similarly creative and soul-baring, but one can't have everything. (I also liked "Unknown Caller" much more than almost everyone here other than Andy and Josh, but I digress.)

Edited by Christopher Lake

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Jeffrey, I certainly agree with your larger point whole-heartedly, but I don't think that U2 has ever even begun to approach the level of mind-numbling sameness that M & S regularly displays. I do see U2's temptation towards simply aping and re-aping their "classic U2" sound at times, but I think they have done pretty well in resisting that temptation. I know that a lot of people here were not really in love with their last album, but I thought that "Moment of Surrender" was a genuine step forward, musically, for them and worth the price of the whole disc. I do wish that more of the album had been similarly creative and soul-baring, but one can't have everything. (I also liked "Unknown Caller" much more than almost everyone here other than Andy and Josh, but I digress.)

Not to veer wildly off topic, but I remain convinced that NLOTH is a classic--almost, but not quite, in the league of Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Yes, I share Overstreet's frustration over the "by-the-numbers" attitude on the middle set of songs. The album wasn't originally intended to turn out that way, but as is typical of latter-day U2, at the last minute, they chickened out and brought in "pop" producers (in this case will.i.am) to try and create "hits." Nevertheless, those "typical U2 songs" are far overshadowed by the brilliance of the album's opening and closing sets. Unknown Caller, Moment of Surrender, FEZ-Being Born, Cedars of Lebanon, etc, these are not by-the-numbers U2 songs.

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I was/am dissapointed in Babel, there's no real growth, or change, and while some bands I don't mind the not changing sound much (i.e. Horse Feathers) it doesn't work for Mumford and Sons, none of the songs really stand out, and it just sounds like a rehash of Sigh No More.


"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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I agree, Morgan. NLOTH is not without its flaws, but I think it's a classic too-- not quite up there with their very best albums but close to them.

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has there even been an instance of a band changing their sound that people didn't like? I was really saddened by the new direction of Iron and Wine. I wanted every album to have that same southern gothic folksy sound of Creek Drank the Cradle. A lot of people have told me I'm silly for expecting Sam Beam to never change though...


"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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has there even been an instance of a band changing their sound that people didn't like? I was really saddened by the new direction of Iron and Wine. I wanted every album to have that same southern gothic folksy sound of Creek Drank the Cradle. A lot of people have told me I'm silly for expecting Sam Beam to never change though...

That's funny, I like the new Iron & Wine much better than the previous releases.

I still have not listened to the new Mumford and Sons album but it is en route. I have heard similar critiques that people dislike the fact that there is little musical change on Babel but I think I'd be fine with no change.


He finds no mercy

And he's lost in the crowd

With an armoured heart of metal

He finds he's running out of odd-numbered daisies

From which to pull the petals

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Surprised that no one has linked to a dismissive take at First Things. (The money paragraph is the third one below.)

Traditional folk and roots music, when it is not merely humanely, honestly simple and silly, is about spiritual, sexual, and political yearning. Praising Christ, lamenting death, demanding justice. The singer has an existential position—as sinner, laborer, husband, wife—from which they sing. And the audience must take sides. For revenge of an infidelity, for redress of an injustice, for the glory of God.

But Mumford does not demand any public or existential commitment from its listeners. It is the typical suburban song-spinning of popular music, but unlike that popular music it affects to be about something more. Mumford seems to be incapable of writing serious songs and unwilling to write ones that eschew bombast. Hence the vague historical and religious references. Hence the waistcoats sans jackets, the odd assemblage of nonsense wardrobe items that share no connection to each other beyond their outmodedness.

Mumford and Sons are a kind of musical Pinterest. They “collect” without really linking together a variety of quaint, beautiful, and touching things. A little gospel here, a little Chesterton there, a little waistcoat here. Because of their penchant for gathering any and every sartorial, lyrical, and instrumental oddment, their coy references to the gospel and GKC become just the “pinning” of another striking and well-wrought thing. We don’t know if they’re Christians (or indeed if they have any existential commitment), or if they’re just aesthetic reactionaries of a limited type. Eclecticism precludes evangelism.

The whole problem is well represented by their name, “Mumford and Sons.” It suggests history, tradition, the passing down of something real—above all, the transmission of blood. But Marcus Mumford is not in a band with his sons; in fact, he has no sons at all.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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has there even been an instance of a band changing their sound that people didn't like? I was really saddened by the new direction of Iron and Wine. I wanted every album to have that same southern gothic folksy sound of Creek Drank the Cradle. A lot of people have told me I'm silly for expecting Sam Beam to never change though...

I actually enjoyed the new direction of Iron and Wine, but then, I hadn't been a fan of them for very many years previously. I had discovered them just a year or so before the newest album was released. I loved the old folkish sound, but I was also impressed by the sheer audacity of the new sound (which, ironically, also was somewhat of a "vintage style"-- Jethro Tull-like progressive rock a ala 1974's Warchild!). It didn't hurt, either, that, at least in my view, Sam Beam continued to write great songs but with a very different musical "voice." Would that Mumford and Sons would try something similar... maybe on the third album!

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And speaking of artists who are capable of surprising their audiences... I am trying to recover from the shock of SDG posting in a music thread.

U2... right, Christopher. I said it was U2's weakness, but I didn't mean to say that their weaknesses govern their sound the way Mumford & Sons' weakness does. When they're good, they're resisting that predictability and as compellingly interesting as any band I know. NLotH is half a strong album, maybe even more; no argument there.

I just wish they were as true to their adventurous, groundbreaking spirit as Radiohead is true to theirs.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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And speaking of artists who are capable of surprising their audiences... I am trying to recover from the shock of SDG posting in a music thread.

U2... right, Christopher. I said it was U2's weakness, but I didn't mean to say that their weaknesses govern their sound the way Mumford & Sons' weakness does. When they're good, they're resisting that predictability and as compellingly interesting as any band I know. NLotH is half a strong album, maybe even more; no argument there.

I just wish they were as true to their adventurous, groundbreaking spirit as Radiohead is true to theirs.

Jeffrey, I've been up and down with Radiohead over the years. Hipsters are apt to say these kinds of things (and, as a fan of Radiohead and Steve Perry-era Journey, I'm not exactly a hipster, hehe!), but I loved the band from their very first album. Pablo Honey was one of my favorite albums of 1993, and I followed them through the expansion of their sound on The Bends and Ok Computer, and to the reinvention that began in earnest on Kid A, which I found to be thrilling.

They seriously started to lose me, though, with Amnesiac, and I've been up and down with them ever since that album. I loved much of In Rainbows, and I didn't like much of the last album (though I did love that televised performance of the songs from the album-- something about "In The Basement"?).

I could get into the details of why I like and don't like each Radiohead album, but I don't want to get too far away from Mumford and Sons, as this is their thread. smile.png I like U2, these days, much more than Radiohead, because while U2 does experiment and push themselves, I find that they also retain more of the things, artistically speaking, that I originally loved about them than does Radiohead.

Not that I always dislike radical, near-complete musical reinventions from artists. Not at all! I love White Light/White Heat, the Velvet Underground's dark, noisy (and to many, unendurable) second album, and I also love their relatively quiet, melodic, beautiful self-titled third album. Some of Radiohead's reinventions simply haven't grabbed my heart as have other, similar moves from other bands.

At this point, I would be happy for anything different from Mumford and Sons, though, even just to show that they care to do more than write essentially the same one or two songs for entire albums.

Edited by Christopher Lake

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Man, that First Things piece is brutal! I definitely have very strong criticisms of M & S and their songwriting approach (as evidenced by my comments in this thread), but to my mind, this excerpt from the article goes too far:

"Because of their penchant for gathering any and every sartorial, lyrical, and instrumental oddment, their coy references to the gospel and GKC become just the “pinning” of another striking and well-wrought thing. We don’t know if they’re Christians (or indeed if they have any existential commitment), or if they’re just aesthetic reactionaries of a limited type. Eclecticism precludes evangelism."

From what I understand, at least the lead vocalist is a Christian (a pastor's son), and the band's lyrics seem to make very clear a commitment to God and a deep appreciation for His grace.

Moreover, since when does a band, including one composed of Christians, have to engage in explicit "evangelism" in its songs for said band to be of genuine artistic worth? This is First Things, not Movieguide! I'm not a fan of Mumford and Sons, at this point, but I am really, really disappointed in the lack of thoughtfulness in this "review." It is far beneath FT's usual standards.

Edited by Christopher Lake

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Jon Fitzgerald at Patrol:

But all of these reviewers miss something huge (I know, I know, now I’m going to claim to get what none of them do. So annoying, but…). They miss that M&S is part of something much larger than their little musical moment. Mumford & Sons are part of what I (and some others) call the New Sincerity. This is a larger movement that recognizes the artificiality of the separation between sacred and secular. They reject that pressure to fragment ourselves depending on our company. Today, I’m a spiritual person. Tomorrow, I’ll be rational. And so on.

Mumford & Sons are not the first band to do this. And they’re nowhere near the best. But, understood in light of this larger movement, they can’t be dismissed as too Jesus-y or not Jesus-y enough. They can’t be faulted for appropriating a range of themes and a diversity of musical influences into their songs; in the New Sincerity, you’re allowed to let all of your influences show. It’s okay if you don’t fit neatly into a box; you’re allowed to be more fully yourself. And this changes the criteria by which we judge popular culture.

Not sure if I agree, but another take on it.

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My take on this band is about the same as Andy's. Also: Jon Fitzgerald cites a "diversity of influences" but all I hear is wan folk-rock-Americana with a little arcade fire stomp.

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Jon Fitzgerald at Patrol:

But all of these reviewers miss something huge (I know, I know, now I’m going to claim to get what none of them do. So annoying, but…). They miss that M&S is part of something much larger than their little musical moment. Mumford & Sons are part of what I (and some others) call the New Sincerity. This is a larger movement that recognizes the artificiality of the separation between sacred and secular. They reject that pressure to fragment ourselves depending on our company. Today, I’m a spiritual person. Tomorrow, I’ll be rational. And so on.

Mumford & Sons are not the first band to do this. And they’re nowhere near the best. But, understood in light of this larger movement, they can’t be dismissed as too Jesus-y or not Jesus-y enough. They can’t be faulted for appropriating a range of themes and a diversity of musical influences into their songs; in the New Sincerity, you’re allowed to let all of your influences show. It’s okay if you don’t fit neatly into a box; you’re allowed to be more fully yourself. And this changes the criteria by which we judge popular culture.

Not sure if I agree, but another take on it.

For what it's worth, I'm not convinced by the article, nor do I have any idea what the author is talking about when he writes of this particular moment when Christians have moved into the popular culture. I'm not offended by M&S's Christian beliefs. I'm a Christian. Why would I be offended? I'm also not offended by their liberal use of f-bombs. Do people still care about this stuff? I can't imagine why. But the idea of Christian musicians NOT operating in the general culture is a relatively recent one, dating back to the late '60s and the emergence of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, and throughout CCM's history there have been dozens and dozens of Christian artists who have elected (wisely, in my opinion) not to go the CCM route, and to simply take their chances in the wider world. There's nothing new here, and this particular "moment" has lasted for decades.

Here's something that Mr. Fitzgerald can't fathom: some of us don't like M&S because we don't think they're very good musically or lyrically. Imagine that.

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Jon Fitzgerald at Patrol:

But all of these reviewers miss something huge (I know, I know, now I’m going to claim to get what none of them do. So annoying, but…). They miss that M&S is part of something much larger than their little musical moment. Mumford & Sons are part of what I (and some others) call the New Sincerity. This is a larger movement that recognizes the artificiality of the separation between sacred and secular. They reject that pressure to fragment ourselves depending on our company. Today, I’m a spiritual person. Tomorrow, I’ll be rational. And so on.

Mumford & Sons are not the first band to do this. And they’re nowhere near the best. But, understood in light of this larger movement, they can’t be dismissed as too Jesus-y or not Jesus-y enough. They can’t be faulted for appropriating a range of themes and a diversity of musical influences into their songs; in the New Sincerity, you’re allowed to let all of your influences show. It’s okay if you don’t fit neatly into a box; you’re allowed to be more fully yourself. And this changes the criteria by which we judge popular culture.

Not sure if I agree, but another take on it.

For what it's worth, I'm not convinced by the article, nor do I have any idea what the author is talking about when he writes of this particular moment when Christians have moved into the popular culture. I'm not offended by M&S's Christian beliefs. I'm a Christian. Why would I be offended? I'm also not offended by their liberal use of f-bombs. Do people still care about this stuff? I can't imagine why. But the idea of Christian musicians NOT operating in the general culture is a relatively recent one, dating back to the late '60s and the emergence of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, and throughout CCM's history there have been dozens and dozens of Christian artists who have elected (wisely, in my opinion) not to go the CCM route, and to simply take their chances in the wider world. There's nothing new here, and this particular "moment" has lasted for decades.

Here's something that Mr. Fitzgerald can't fathom: some of us don't like M&S because we don't think they're very good musically or lyrically. Imagine that.

What you (Andy) said. :)

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Apparently The New Sincerity means that no one is allowed to make an artful critique of anything because as long as it's sincere, that's all that matters. I sincerely disagree with this mindset.

Edited by Taliesin

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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Apparently The New Sincerity means that no one is allowed to make an artful critique of anything because as long as it's sincere, that's all that matters. I sincerely disagree with this mindset.

We used to call these "New Sincerity" folks singer/songwriters.

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Jake Meador:

Critiquing a band in 2012 for taking a Pinterest approach to their music and image seems rather like critiquing a fish for being in water. After all, we live in an era where a French art museum that houses Asian art is marked by a glass pyramid inspired by the pyramids of Egypt. And this isn’t just a philosophical issue. Part of it is communal. Large numbers of immigrants in the United States and western Europe inevitably lead to more hodge-podge type cultural identities. Joie and I live in a neighborhood with a large Mexican population. One of the consequences of living in a neighborhood like that is that some amount of crossover is going to happen. But I don’t think that necessarily means I’m snatching at disparate cultural influences with no regard for context. Indeed, it’s precisely because I do have regard for context that I’m being influenced by my neighbors.

Another factor feeding into this is technological. I’ve never been to New York City or Washington DC. But I’ve been tremendously influenced by both through media. Between immigration and new technological possibilities – as well as, I suspect, a certain broad philosophical malaise – it’s not at all surprising when a new cultural artifact comes off as somewhat patched together. Indeed, I suspect the only way to successfully go viral in such an atomized, pluralistic society is to be a bit eclectic.

[...]

To be clear, simply snatching at whatever grabs your fancy without making any attempt to knit it together is lazy and poor art. But ours is a world of a million sub-cultures and a million technologies that make crossing over from one to the next rather seamless. In a single day I can read blogs by authors in DC and New York, a book published in India that I got at a conference in Kansas, eat lunch at a local deli with meat from Nebraska, edit manuscripts to be used by schools in New Jersey, and then have a dinner at a Greek restaurant. And when I’m done with that, I can watch TV shows made in California about life in New Mexico or on a remote desert isle.

Put simply, coherence is hard to come by in a world so fragmented. Sometimes the best that can be done is snatching at various elements from disparate groups and attempting – even haltingly – to knit them together into something sensible. I’ve only listened to it twice, but Babel seems to do that.


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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My depth of knowledge in modern day music is limited, but I acquired Babel and can recognize both that (1) there is nothing necessarily exhibiting great talent in the new album, and (2) it is simply a small, heartfelt, fairly enjoyable collection of folksy songs. I've listened to other modern folk and bluegrass music, and sometimes there is not much variety in style, and sometimes that is ok. When it comes to style, it isn't that different from Sigh No More.

I have a suspicion that Mumford & Sons is getting more criticism now than before simply because they became popular. It's as if our society has some sort of assumption that, in order to be popular, musicians need to achieve some higher objective standard of musical talent. What a crazy, antiquated assumption.

Also, I'm adding "a Pinterest approach" to my list of new phrases that are forever banned from my vocubulary.

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