Mumford and Sons


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You have had to deal with ten of these now. They ain’t stopping.

Beirut – Untitled 10 (YSI)

I’ll admit, I am one of those terrible people who finds it hard to like a band as much when they get big. After seeing Mumford & Sons play two very small shows, watching them at a larger venue seemed sort of wrong, and I’m not going to lie, I went in with something of a negative outlook. And for a while I was proved right. Newcastle Union is a shit venue for a start; its acoustics aren’t particularly good and there are two rows of pillars either side of the stage, meaning the size of the venue is effectively halfed immediately. Unfortunately, they don’t take that into account when they sell the tickets, meaning the centre of the room was uncomfortably tightly packed (I know there’s all that shit about essential support, and making sure the basement roof doesn’t fall and crush everyone inside, but that’s just being picky). Not only that, but they’d rigged the sound up as if it was a rock gig meaning the drums tended to muffle any kind of quieter instrument being played. Finally, my friends and I were flanked by drunken twats, knocking into everyone around them and football chanting to any kind of anthemic song they knew and talking their way through the quieter or new songs.

I was in a bad mood for a little while. Soon though, they got the sound right and the twats moved away after a few songs and we were left alone (if tightly squeezed together) to just watch the band, and from that point on the gig became very good indeed. You see, no matter how big they get, I can’t this band losing the charm that made them so much fun in smaller venues. They graciously thanked the crowd, made small talk about the city and just had a ball onstage, throwing themselves wholeheartedly into every song and never allowing a dull moment. They were clearly bowled over by the sheer size and noise of the crowd who absolutely screamed after every song – and so was I really. It’s amazing how small things can affect your view of a gig; once the twats had left, I suddenly had a new-found appreciation for the varied crowd.

The set was what could be expected of a band still advertising their debut album – mostly made up of album tracks and singles with a couple of newer songs thrown in for good measure. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good, these are tracks that have clearly been honed until they’re played right every single time and songs like ‘The Cave’ sound absolutely magnificent nowadays. The harmonies were absolutely perfect, the instrumentation was worked together beautifully, even when some of the band members had to switch halfway through. There’s a reason Mumford & Sons have risen above their folky peers in sheer popularity; almost every song is a crowd pleaser, and judging by the new songs that’s not likely to stop just yet.

Setlist:

1. Sigh No More
2. Winter Winds
3. Roll Away Your Stone
4.White Blank Page
5. Untitled New Track (Similar to first album tracks – all about the build up)
6. Awake My Soul
7. Little Lion Man
8. New Track (All electric instruments, loud crescendos but more indie than folky)
9. Thistle & Weeds
10. Timshel
11. Dust Bowl Dance (YSI)
12. The Cave

Encore:
13.The Banjolin Song
14. New Track (Electric instruments again, but more of a hoedown feel)

So here we are, the final list, my five favourite albums of 2009, I do hope you’ve enjoyed my selections, and maybe found some new stuff for your mp3 players to eat up. Speak to you all soon!

5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I

When I first listened to this latest effort from New York’s premier anti-folk troubadour/comic book artist I expected what I’d heard before in my brief forays into the Lewis back catalogue; gentle, off-centre ditties about charmingly witty and strangely perverse subjects. In fact, I was kind of wrong. For a start, a lot of this album is a lot louder than I expected it to be, with opener ‘Slogans’ blasting the whole affair into life in a whirl of Libertines-ey razorwire riffs whilst I actually found a lot of the subject matter to be charming and witty, but mostly conventional in its approach. And maybe that was the best way to really introduce me to Jeffrey Lewis, expect the unexpected. The album takes lyrical left turns throughout, with love songs to Greyhound buses (‘Roll Bus Roll’) giving way to existential musings (‘If Life Exists?’) before discussing how whistling prevents hearing corpses talk about you (‘Whistle Past The Graveyard’) whilst musically we’re met with folk ditties, Cake-style freakouts (‘The Upside-Down Cross’) and indie-punk anthems (‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’). It’s Lewis himself who makes this album what it is then, infusing every track with his own irrepressible charm and verve, not to mention his distinctive nasal whine (certainly not a bad thing, by the way). There’s just so much to be told on this album, you just want to hear what he’s telling you throughout, and it’s a storytelling experience as much as anything else and that’s what makes it quite so special.

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – Roll Bus Roll (YSI)

4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Not having been alive in 1983, nor having done any kind of extensive research into the music of that time, all the talk about how POBPAH (lovely acronym that that is) are simply rehashing the famous C83 tape flies right over my head. I’ll tell you what I hear on this album – some unfairly talented young people making shimmering, occasionally loud, twee indie music in an almost perfectly-realised way. It doesn’t matter that this has been done before, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the band have done their research into what they want to sound like before they made their album, what matters is that this is one of those albums where every song feels like an old friend after one listen. And it’s the second listen that counts, where you realise for the first time just how well made all of these songs are. ‘Young Adult Friction’ is a gloriously sparking love song, ‘A Teenager In Love’ is quietly glimmering pop masterpiece whilst ‘Everything With You’ is a punk-flecked headbanger for kids in NHS specs, complete with a wonderfully out of place stadium rock guitar solo. If I was a bit younger and a bit further back in my relationship, this would be the perfect soundtrack for falling in love to.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything With You (YSI)

3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another

Future of the Left are quite likely the most menacing band I’ve ever heard. Menacing because they’re not balls-out terrifying like a death metal band, menacing because you can never quite tell whether they’re joking, menacing because there’s always the suspicion that they’re even angrier than they let on, and it might just all tumble out of your speakers and throttle you without you realising. And I love them for it. There’s something in that commitment to releasing your anger through music, but in no immediately obvious way that makes me smile. It seems the intelligent way to do it. Packing barely twelve songs into just over half an hour, this is a tightly-wound ball of aggression, taking in ‘The Hope That House Built’s barely-contained war march, hellish (PUN) anthem ‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’ and the spring-loaded punk of ‘Stand By Your Manatee’ before winding down with the spectacularly odd spoken-word explosion of ‘Lapsed Catholics’. It all seems like the perfect follow-up to Curses – it has all the same vitriol, the same mish-mash of the heavier genres and the same sense of deranged playfulness of subject, but something is lying there behind it all, differentiating it, with a bigger grin, and a bigger sense of something truly dangerous behind that grin.

Future of the Left – Chin Music (YSI)

2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

This was, as any regualar readers will know, my most anticipated album of the year. After three EPs that I couldn’t get enough of and after experiencing them live, I really couldn’t freaking wait for Sigh No More. I was not to be disappointed. Choosing some of their best songs from the original EPs and surrounding them with some excellent new additions to the catalogue was a very good call, appeasing the fans with new material whilst showing new ones what they’ve been missing. This is a group who seem assured of their positions within each song at all times, using each instrument to full effect, and bringing every track to life with incredible precision. We all know they’re masters of the uplifting buildup by now, with tracks like ‘Winter Winds’, ‘The Cave’ and ‘White Blank Page’ all exhibiting that particular talent, but there’s a wealth of different styles on show here, with quieter tracks like the brooding ‘I Gave You All’ being given just as much space to breathe as its more ostentatious neighbours. Marcus’ beautiful keening vocals are another source of wonder, moving from scratching solos to taking its place amongst the rest of the band as they harmonise like nobody else. Not only that, but ‘Dust Bowl Dance’ showed room for expansion, embracing electric instruments and making an almighty racket with them. It has to be remembered that this is a debut album too, they may have had more experience than many new bands do when they recorded it, but for a band to put together such a coherent, beautiful record on their first try is nothing short of amazing, and their new-found larger fanbase is just reward for the hard work they’ve put in so far.

Mumford & Sons – White Blank Page (YSI)

1. The xx – xx

To be honest, this was probably the easiest choice of them all, but I still ask myself one big question whenever I think about this album – where the hell did it come from? In today’s world of leaks, Myspace fame and PR overload, how did The xx seem such an unassuming prospect until they hit us with xx? It was a miracle of timing and possibly purposeful mystery that brought the band to everyone’s attention at the same time, creating a singular (mainly bloggy) fervour to write about them just before the album came out and they played the summer festivals. It’s not just the mystery of their appearance that makes them incredible though, I’m still bowled over by just how assured a debut this is, particularly from teenagers with basically no experience or exposure to the world they were entering. And yet The xx have made an album that should be and, I imagine, is looked at with incredulity to think getting a better sound means adding more to it. These are eleven tracks of quiet, gloomy romance that have been picked back to their bare bones, skeletal reminders of what they could have been, and how unnecessary it would have been to fill them out. Songs like ‘VCR’ get by with so little instrumentation they could almost seem incomplete, but occasional touches of bass or the barest hints of synth high hats push them into their own uniquely quiet territory.

Romy and Oliver’s vocals are the real centre piece though, their interplay, weaving in and out of each other, joining together and overlapping is a masterclass in how boy-girl vocals needn’t be a gimmick or oppositional; they can act in symbiosis, saying the same things in different ways. The instruments act in a similar way, with quietly picked guitar parts following bass throbs while gentle synths wind their way around both. In ‘Heart Skipped A Beat’, the sparse drum machine dance beats lead the way, allowing for other instruments to make their way into the mix, quietly creating an almost imperceptible crescendo that disappears as quickly as it formed. It’s the Jamie Smith’s well-studied exercise in silence-as-production-technique that accentuates these moments, makes them important to the listener, and elevates the vocals above the rest – and it’s the silence rather than anything else that characterises this album. It’s an odd idea, but silence has been the only true new sound this year – almost everything else on this list can be traced back to someone elses’ music, but the silence on xx is so singular it becomes its own feature, and that’s why this album is the most important, and, more usefully, the best of the year.

The xx – Heart Skipped A Beat (YSI)

Just as a round-up, here’s the full list:

1. The xx – xx
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
3. Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard – ‘Em Are I
6. The Horrors – Primary Colours
7. Mos Def – The Ecstatic
8. Telekinesis – Telekinesis!
9. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
10. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms
11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinsons – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
13. Hockey – Mind Chaos
14. Pull Toger Tail – PAWS.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

It would appear my tardiness knows no bounds. 10 days? I suck, I know, but if you’ll forgive me, I have something important to say. Mumford & Sons’ album, Sigh No More, whilst very, very good, doesn’t quite match up to xx. However, it is unfair to compare the two because they’re  completely different styles of music so I’ll be focusing just on this album for now. There’s always end of year lists to unfairly compare bands anyway!

Mumford & Sons have always been about grand buildups, uplifting harmonies, Marcus’ imimitable, keening vocals and the sheer joy of hearing folk music taken to a completely different place to its usual quiet, reserved self. The album delivers on every front. Drawing from all three EPs they’ve released previously and adding new tracks to the mix, there are parts of this album that feel like old friends by now, anthems (at least in my head) that I’ve learned and loved since I first heard them, whilst the new friends will soon be just the same I’m sure. It’s a perfect mix, not making you feel as though the band have turned their back on their older tracks, whilst showing that they aren’t merely one-trick ponies. Stylistically as well, there’s a nice flow to the album, moving from the sheer gloriously explosions of “The Cave” tempered with more sombre tracks like “I Gave You All”. This is clearly an album that has been thought through and designed with the listener’s experience in mind. The band aren’t afraid to show they can go in different directions either, with “Dust Bowl Dance” wholeheartedly embracing the sheer noise of the electric guitars they introduce, whilst “Thistle & Weeds” almost sounds like a piano-driven Muse track at points.

Overall, this is another assured, and more importantly, fantastic debut album from a band I hope will be around for a very long time. Mumford & Sons have showed that there is a whole other world of folk music to be explored, and with their album, they’ve crystallised their mission statement perfectly, here’s another album you just can’t afford to miss.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get clearance to post any of the album tracks, so here’s a fantastic session of the title track and album opener, “Sigh No More”

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (BBC Session) (YSI)

I’ve just watched Anvil! The Story of Anvil, and I don’t think I can remember another documentary I’ve ever enjoyed so much, let alone a music film. I’d heard so much praise for the film beforehand, and every bit is true. This is like a real-life Spinal Tap (the drummer’s called Robb Reiner for a start), with hilarious interplay between the band members, be it finishing each other’s sentences, fighting or even a dial in a production suite that gets turned to 11. But along with all of this, there’s a beautiful underlying story of following your dreams – these are two 14 year old kids who decided to rock forever, and have kept that promise to each other through thick and thin, and that totally comes through in the film. But by far the truest piece of criticism that I’ve heard regards who this film is for. Whether you like metal or not, whether you care about the music or not, it doesn’t matter, this is a story about the people behind the music, and their lives are every bit as interesting, saddening and hilarious as  a character you’d expect from any “reach for your dream” piece of Hollywood schmaltz, without making you want to throw up. Overall, it’s an incredible document of human tenacity and childlike dreaming that just happens to be based around a metal band that’s been around for over thirty years, and it’s that feeling of watching people who never gave up that makes it quite so special – I can’t recommend it enough.

Tenacious D – The Metal (YSI)
Mumford & Sons – Hold On To What You Believe (YSI)
Anvil – Metal On Metal (YSI)

Year Old

Exactly one year ago, I was sitting in this same chair, in the same room, looking out of the same green window, and listening to the same band (Mumford & Sons if you must know) when I first created this blog, mainly to counteract the boredom and loneliness of my lovely girlfriend being on holiday (something else which is the same a year on, unfortunately). Not a lot might have changed in that respect, but I certainly feel a lot’s changed for me. Going to Uni, making new friends and hearing a whole heap of new, brilliant music and trying to share it with you.

So here’s hoping for another verdant year of musical goodness, and a whole lot more to force on any one of you hapless enough to fall upon my page in your travels. I know this is slightly ridiculous, but thank you to anyone who’s leant their support through comments or real-life tangible communication, to anyone who actually reads my posts after getting here from Hype Machine and most of all to Cat for supporting me and knowing when to call me a music snob and stop me becoming even more irritating and self-righteous than I already am. But I still don’t like Lady Gaga 🙂

Mumford & Sons – Hold On To What You Believe (YSI)

Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe (YSI)

Jay Jay Pistolet – Happy Birthday You (YSI)

Glastonbury Day Three

Well, I seem to have been a bit useless again, and broken my promise of those daily reviews, but I’ll make up for it with the review of my busiest day at Glastonbury.

Waking to sunshine again, we got ourselves quickly over to the Queen’s Head stage to see Two Door Cinema Club. I’ve written about this Northern Irish three-piece before, but if you haven’t already heard them, they really are quite something. Consisting of two guitarists, a bassist and a drum machine, they have already made three absolute indie-pop gems in the shape of debut single “Something Good Can Work” as well as “Undercover Martyn” and “Hands Off My Cash, Monty”, but this set went to prove just how much more they’ve got in their arsenal. Drawing in a largely ambivalent crowd throughout and soon getting the whole tent moving is no easy task, but that’s exactly what happened. Even with technical difficulties slowing the end of the set, they charmingly talked with the crowd and got a smile on every face. Definitely one to watch.

Wandering around a bit later, I spotted the poetry and spoken word tent, and noticed that John Hegley was performing. For those who haven’t come across him, Hegley is a quintessentially English comic poet and songwriter. With songs about a man who dislikes furniture, living in a Luton bungalow and poems about guillemots (birds not band) and hamsters, he’s not your conventional act, but that’s never a reason to discount him. Staying wonderfully deadpan whilst having the audience in stitches, the tiny tent was packed to the edge, and Hegley revelled in it.

Making our way to The Snug tent (half of the time reserved for bouts of Singstar), we waited patiently for Johnny Flynn. One of the flagbearers for the London new-folk movement, along with his band The Sussex Wit, Johnny Flynn crafts beautifully poetic folk numbers that manage to become catchy in the same instant as they are artistically incredible. This set was without the band however, and Johnny walked on armed with only a dobro guitar and his amazing voice. After becoming used to the full band versions of his songs, it was brilliant to hear exactly how he first conceived his songs, and established numbers like “Tickle Me Pink” and “The Box” became completely different songs with the acoustic treatment. As he left the stage, there was rapturous applause and shouts for more, and for good reason, it was wonderful.

For the most of the rest of the day, we remained mainly in one area, the Green Fields. Slap bang in the middle of the Greenpeace area was a tiny stage called the Chess Club/Mi7 stage and, just before the festival a little bird (well, Myspace) had let me know that there would be two consecutive sets from Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. Apart from anything else, I was ridiculously excited about this as it let me see all three new-folk artists that I love most (Johnny Flynn being the third) in one day. So we took our positions in the tent with good time to spare, and saw the two preceding bands.

Let’s Tea Party were first, three scruffy young men with a penchant for smiling, melodicas and lovely, lovely tunes. After inviting a harpist they’d only just met to play with them, I couldn’t help but be on their side, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them, although what I have heard suggests its a slightly more noisy style that they usually go for. Following quickly on their heels, King Charles followed. Unbelievably skinny with gigantic dreads, I expected some acoustic numbers, and that’s what I got, at least for the first song. He asked the audience to stand up, before unleashing 40 minutes of guitar solo-led, screaming explosions of rock goodness. Now from the one song I’ve heard, this doesn’t seem entirely in keeping with his usual style, but it was just unbelievable. The crowd turned from mild-mannered folk lovers into frenzied rock fans instantly. Certainly, it’s my most intense experience at Glastonbury, and as the announcer afterwards said, “you’ll all remember being here for the rest of your lives”. I think that may well be true.

After a short break, Mumford & Sons arrived to a wall of screams and hollers, a fair few which came from me, having just met Marcus Mumford outside and feeling like I’d made a new friend, despite only chatting for two minutes. I knew what to expect from their live show, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to just how glorious it is. I think it’s the harmonies that do it. I could talk forever about how wonderful the instrumentation is, how the sounds grow and envelop each other and just tremble down your body, but it’s the harmonies that push it into a truly wonderful territory. Those beautiful voices working together just like the instruments never fail to get me like very little other music do. Playing to crowd that seemed to be waiting for Laura Marling, I think they gained quite a few more fans in the process. Mumford & Sons are almost too good, and I’m suspicious.

But as I said, the crowd were waiting for a certain young folkstress by the name of Laura Marling. Packed like at no other time in the day, people were standing on benches, craning over one another to get a glimpse of the true queen of new-folk. Her set was nothing short of beautiful, playing every song the audience were waiting for, gracing us with a few newer, more country-tinged numbers. Her star status is assured, and with good reason – she straddles the responsibility of being a pin-up and an artist better than most can manage, and still remains humble and gracious.

Dashing off to see our last band of the festival, we reached the Pyramid stage to see a bigger crowd than any other we’d witnessed. Stretching from the front row, up the hill and all the way into the camping behind us, Blur were truly a good choice for the closing act. You have to feel sorry for the bands on at the same time, they were always going to attract a huge crowd, and with good reason. I always forget just how many hits Blur have had, and just how varied they all are, but watching Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave perfectly recreate the songs that made them the superstars they are, I was constantly enthralled. From the atomic bomb of a song that is “Song 2”, to the gospel singalong of “Tender” and into my personal favourite, “Coffee & TV”, this set was just proof of why Blur are an incredibly important band for British music.

But Glastonbury didn’t end there. It may have been the last set, but wandering around later that night we saw some incredible things. These included hundreds of people spontaneously dancing to “Thriller” in the Stone Circles, accidently finding Basement Jaxx playing to about ten people in a futuristic Hong Kong covered market and watching a middle aged woman nearly impale herself on a candelstick whilst dancing to the Friends theme tune on a table in the middle of a thunderstorm. Really. And that’s why Glastonbury is the best festival in the world. The music might be incredible, but there are so many non-musical moments, so many discoveries and experiences that you can have there that it pushes the festival out of simply a musical area and into a festival in the true sense of the word, a celebration of human interaction, and what we’re capable of.

Did I just write that last bit? Well, if you didn’t like that, I’ll just tell it to you straight: It’s fucking amazing.

Two Door Cinema Club – Undercover Martyn (YSI)
Johnny Flynn – Tickle Me Pink (Demo) (YSI)
Let’s Tea Party – Reptile (YSI)
King Charles – Time Of Eternity (YSI)
Mumford & Sons – The Cave (YSI)
Laura Marling – My Manic & I (YSI)
Blur – Coffee & TV (YSI)

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