An album I really should like more... right?

Okay. It’s been about a year since I first heard Mumford & Sons. I remember seeking out “Little Lion Man” after reading a little blurb about it, and thinking it sounded like a great song. I downloaded it right away, but, to my surprise, it turned a bit stale on repeated listens. Their follow-up “The Cave”, despite its strangely moving video, has only marginally better replay appeal. Despite all that, I did download a copy of the group’s debut full-length Sigh No More when offered it at a steep discount. I have probably played it a couple of times, but… ehh. There’s nothing about the album itself that makes me crave it. What’s worse, when I hear their songs on the radio, they’ve started to grate on my nerves.

I don’t necessarily hate their music. Hate is such a strong term, best reserved for the truly loathsome, and frankly, once I go on record as “hating” an artist – The Dave Matthews Band, for instance – they inevitably release a single (“Funny The Way It Is”), or even a whole album album (Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King), that makes me have to eat my words. I don’t love the Dave Matthews Band, but I do love that damn album. And I don’t hate Mumford & Sons. I’m just not that into them.


I have to admit: this is a band I tried really hard to like. This is a band I feel on some instinctual level I should be in love with. The same way I fell in love with The Avett Brothers a couple years ago. I feel like I may have failed Mumford & Sons as a listener. And the surprised looks on my music-fan-friends’ faces when I express my semi-embarrassing, clearly minority opinion of the band only serves to reinforce that feeling of failure. Where did I go wrong? What am I not hearing in this music that so many of my friends seem to love?

And then I start to think that maybe it’s not a personal failing. Maybe I’m just not convinced by the band’s “authenticity”. Am I the only one who hears a gimmick – or even a small, made-to-be-charming collection of them – in every Mumford & Sons song? All the various anachronisms in their music and presentation, starting, of course, with the band’s very name, intended to evoke the old family business (are they in music, or haberdashery?), and extending to Marcus Mumford’s faux-Appalachian rasp and the music’s sepia-toned arrangements feel like a dusty collection of folksy figurines lined up behind the glass of an antique shop china closet. But closer inspection reveals that they aren’t really dusty – they’ve just been painted to look that way. Listening to Mumford & Sons feels to me like listening to a cassette tape shoved into the back of one of those replica Victrola turntables you get at Sears.

Then again, maybe it’s just that the songs aren’t that great, and don’t hold up well.
This past weekend, while on a family road trip, we stopped for a picnic lunch in a Clinton, Missouri park. There in the park, two Amish teenagers had set up a shelter where they were selling various baked goods. I went over and bought a plate of pecan caramel cinnamon rolls that looked fantastic – it had been so long since I’d had a really fantastic pecan caramel cinnamon roll – and y’know, these particular pecan caramel cinnamon rolls were baked by actual people – Amish people, even. They had to be great, right? But when we actually opened them, they were sort of tough and dry and sad. No question there was a certain level of joy involved in my purchase. But that joy vanished in the actual eating to the point where a QuikTrip donut would have been preferable.

And so it may be with Mumford & Sons. Maybe, with pop music sounding more and more automated and computerized, less melodic and more rhythmic, we crave the sound of actual human fingers plucking the actual strings of actual musical instruments – especially those indigenous to our pioneering forefathers – and we crave the sound of genuine imperfect human voices singing actual verses and choruses so much that we’re willing to pretend that replica Victrola is the real deal, and that the cassette we’re listening to is really an old-timey 78 we dug out of the bins at St. Vinnie’s.