Because sometimes you just want friends to tell you about cool things… the Brew House team offers up its weekly mix of author-supported goodness
Mumford & Sons released its second album this week, “Babel”, the follow-up to the out-of-nowhere buzz album, “Sigh No More”, and a perfectly fine and ordinary record that sounds more or less exactly like its predecessor.
The Mumford & Sons dichotomy has long fascinated me. Marcus Mumford and his friends make what is essentially bluegrass pop—big and layered songs that always seem to start slow and end with booming crescendos. It is music that is seemingly loved by a rather substantial chunk of folks between the ages of 16 and 35. Young professional urbanites. Frat boys. Suburban teenagers. Feminist careerists. (OK. That last one is a major assumption. Deal with it.)
But this is also a buzzband that is, by and large, loathed by critics and hipster tastemakers like Vice and Pitchfork—a band that treads in the same “bigger-than-thou” territory that U2 occupied in the late 80s; the same overly sentimental plot of land that Dave Matthews claimed in the mid to late 90s.
This is an odd thing in an odd time. A band can be all strings and strumming and non-cynical—and be this big? I suppose it’s not unlike what Arcade Fire pulled off a few years ago. Except instead of being the evolutionary Dylan, Arcade Fire was more like the evolutionary Bruce. Of course, some critics poked fun at Win Butler, et. al. But few mounted the fury we’ve seen for Mumford.
I was having trouble squaring my feelings about Mumford’s music (“Pretty good”) with my feelings about the Mumford phenomenon. (“Kind of annoying”)
That is, I was, until I read this review/treatise on the Mumford Way from NPR’s Ann Powers. Why do critics despise Mumford? Maybe, Powers says, because their popularity and public qualities are antithetical to the rock code…
“It’s grounded in the real, powerful legacy of popular music as a forum for otherwise unheard voices: African-Americans through jazz, the blues and, later, hip-hop (and really, through most all pop music); rural people through country and early rockabilly; queer people through disco; misfits of various kinds through metal or punk. The idea that popular music should be oppositional is a powerful one and has made it a central conduit for viewpoints that might have otherwise never reached a large audience. But the fact is, plenty of people who aren’t rebels or freaks gain insight and sustenance from popular music, too. They even get it from rock ‘n’ roll.”
There’s plenty of goodness in Powers’ short post on Mumford, including a decent take on how religion relates to the Mumford, the Avetts, the Lumineers and all the rest. And it might even make you feel better about loading “I Will Wait” onto your latest iPod playlist. — rustin dodd
If it’s only been a short while since we last endorsed an episode of “This American Life”, we apologize. Not really. This is a really good listen. And if you’re interested in education, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
It’s only two segments, and the first focuses on the new book from Paul Tough, “How Children Succeed”. Enjoy. — BH.