When the softly strumming guitar and the harmonious voices of Mumford and Sons fill the room, I immediately assume that I’m in for a record of calmly earnest folk music. Little do I know that the opening title track of Sigh No More will build to dark, driving bluegrass. When the lyrics tell me “love will not betray, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free,” I imagine my fist punching the air like an impassioned revolutionary.
And that’s exactly what the album Sigh No More is—it’s impassioned and revolutionary. It’s impassioned in that the vocals are sung with absolute sincerity and emotion. It’s revolutionary in that it’s a hybrid of folk, country and rock that, somehow—almost surprisingly in an era of genre hybrids—is unique.
Throughout the album, the music communicates nostalgia, love, hope, poignancy, anger and desperation. Each song is distinctive by either conveying a different emotion, using a different structure and metre or emphasising different vocal harmonies.
When it comes to the vocals, Mumford and Sons use harmonies that are similar to Fleet Foxes. But, where Fleet Foxes are smooth and choral, Mumford and Sons are more powerful and a little rough around the edges. That’s just the way I like it—occasionally even gravelly, the lyrics are unmistakeably masculine.
One of the songs that’s a standout is Little Lion Man. A rollicking guitar song, its elevating, barn dance-esque strumming defies the track’s lyrics (“it was not your fault but mine/and it was your heart on the line/I really fucked it up this time/didn’t I my dear?”), as the song talks about gaining the courage to admit offence.
Dust Bowl Dance is also spectacular. But, in contrast to Little Lion Man is an angry confession of sin from someone who has had taken from them what’s important (“I’ve been kicked off my land at the age of 16”). Heavy guitar licks make Dust Bowl Dance one of the more rocky tracks on the album, despite beginning in a slow and lonely way (“there was no one in the town and no one in the field”) but when the song finally does build, frustration emerges, along with the solid guitar.
All in all, Sigh No More is an album worth listening to, even if only for its diversity. Don’t be fooled by the opening track though, the album is not for the faint hearted. The mature themes, sophisticated melodies and emotional vocals make this one of the albums of the year.
This review was first published in Beat magazine.