Mumford And Sons

The incessant shopping trips start to make your life feel like a single, unbroken stream of home-furnishings-related commerce when you reach a certain age and all your friends get married. So I’m not sure when or why I was in a mall parking lot with my wife when I first heard “Home” on the radio this year. What I do remember is that the song struck me as slightly unusual for WNCI, the local top-40 station we were bumping on that particular Macy’s trip. The chorus reached to the heavens on the strength of acoustic guitars, arching choral harmonies and a relentless 4/4 thud maintained by kick drum and stomping feet. The earnest lead vocal was a robust tenor accented with folksy tremble and weathered beyond its years like distressed denim. The chorus went like this: “Settle down, it’ll all be clear / Don’t pay no mind to the demons that fill you with fear / The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you’re not alone / Because I’m gonna make this place your home.” This had to be Mumford & Sons, right?

My brain probably generated a few alternate origin stories for “Home,” but none of them involved American Idol. Upon encountering the song again when it was smeared all over NBC’s Olympics coverage, I was dumbstruck to discover this was the first single from Idol winner Phillip Phillips, and not just the kind of dumbstruck you feel when you realize somebody really named his or her child Phillip Phillips. Idol winners have a checkered history where actual pop stardom is concerned, but it wasn’t surprising to hear this year’s champ on the radio. The surprise was just that a fresh-faced Georgia boy like Phillips would be on the radio sounding like a bunch of fervid Englishmen who dress up like Jack White in Cold Mountain. “Home,” written as Idol’s Season 11 coronation song by Drew Pearson and Greg Holden, seems scientifically engineered to replicate the Mumford & Sons formula. Folk-rock — even inspirational folk-rock of the Mumford variety — is not a sound I expect to hear from an institution founded on wind-beneath-my-wings diva bluster.

Then again, why wouldn’t a fame factory like Idol try to copy an approach that made Mumford & Sons the biggest band in the world? Just listen to these absurd statistics: Mumford’s debut album Sigh No More climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 two years after its 2009 release, and it was still near the top of the chart when follow-up Babel dropped this September. Babel moved 600,000 copies in its first week, the best sales debut of the year until Taylor Swift came along. It was the biggest debut for a rock band since AC/DC sold 784,000 copies of Black Ice in 2008. (Yes, that happened.) Babel’s success extended to the Hot 100 singles chart, where Mumford became the first band to log six songs simultaneously since the Beatles. Mumford-mania translated to live shows too; when the band came to my native Columbus back in August, it was initially booked for the 5,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater LC Pavilion, but tickets were on pace to sell out during the presale, so the promoter moved the show to the parking lot behind the venue and doubled the capacity. Judging from the buzz in town that day and the number of people who lined up along the fence to hear the show, they could have easily filled an arena or two.

Imitating a band that’s incurring that level of adulation is obviously a lucrative career move, so of course Phillips isn’t the only one doing it; it seems to be working out for Denver folk trio the Lumineers. The group shares Mumford’s aesthetic in both sight (a fondness for olde-timey instruments and attire) and sound (acoustic anthems with mega sing-along potential), and they recently pulled off a similar leap from budding underground sensation to legitimate chart power. The Lumineers’ self-titled album made it up to No. 11, and clap-and-stomp-powered single “Ho Hey” is at No. 13 and climbing. A few months ago this band was part of the undercard at an independent radio fest here in Columbus. Now they’re set to tour arenas with Dave Matthews Band, which — well, more on that in a second. First, let’s talk about context.

What initially took me aback when I heard “Home,” and what’s so astonishing about this whole folk-rock-on-the-pop-charts movement, is how it’s happening in an environment almost entirely geared around club music. The EDM explosion has been well-documented, so no need to belabor the point, but just consider for a moment how dance-oriented the singles chart is right now. The Top 20 almost exclusively comprises R&B (Rihanna, Chris Brown, Miguel), rap (Kanye West, Flo-Rida), alternative bands gunning for the dance floor (Maroon 5, fun., Alex Clare’s polarizing Internet Explorer jingle “Too Close”) and outright dance-pop (Ke$ha, “Gangnam Style”). Taylor Swift has all but abandoned her bedazzled guitar collection to fit in there. It’s a wonder that a band in the Mumford mold could survive in this climate, let alone thrive.

How did it happen? Did Mumford and the Lumineers really just barnstorm the charts out of nowhere, or did they benefit from some trailblazing? One event that springs to mind is Arcade Fire’s Album Of The Year win at the Grammys last year. After all, those guys were donning olde-timey costumes and singing their compassionate Canadian hearts out long before Marcus Mumford was a blip on the pop-culture radar. But Mumford & Sons were already well into their ascent by the time the 2011 Grammys rolled around — remember, they and the Avett Brothers performed with Bob Dylan during the ceremony that night. Speaking of the Avetts, they surely had a hand in establishing the lung-busting dress-up folk demographic. So did their bookish counterparts the Decemberists. Those two groups might as well have sired Mumford & Sons during a one-night stand at Bonnaroo, and I have to believe they both would have a shot at crossover success if they released the right single right now. Whoever manages Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros should be leaning hard on radio programmers right now, too.

So we can choose to see the success of Mumford and his progeny as a long-gestating underground movement that’s finally spilling over into the mainstream, and there may be some truth to that. But I can’t help thinking these acts are carrying a torch that dates back to long before indie rock got in touch with its inner renaissance faire — a torch that burns kind of like chlamydia burns. Dating back to my first dabblings with top-40 radio at the height of Blues Traveler’s “Run Around,” the format has always had room for that bro-friendly H.O.R.D.E. Tour sound. Sometimes it veers toward jam-band status (DMB), sometimes teeny bopper guitar-slinging (Jason Mraz), sometimes goofy gimmick pop (Barenaked Ladies), but it always seems to persist on the pop charts. Now bands like Mumford and the Lumineers are fulfilling that role, but they’re also becoming the latest installment of the whole “indie goes mainstream”/”mainstream co-opts indie” thing that’s been happening since Seth Cohen’s heyday — or, you know, since Don Draper married Megan.

It’s an unexpected intersection of galaxies, but it’s happening. Really, what separates Mumford and Lumineers from the likes of Train and Howie Day? If we’re honest, most of it comes down to marketing more than music. These bands dress like Wes Anderson characters. They’re signed to indie labels — Lumineers with Dualtone, the home to Brett Dennen and Bobby Bare, and Mumford with Glassnote, which makes them colleagues with Stereogum favorites like Phoenix, Oberhofer, and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke. They’re both bound to pop up if you listen to the Bon Iver Pandora station for a couple hours. But they also appeal directly to a segment of the population that probably makes a sizable swath of indie music fans squirm. Lumineers are about to hit the road with Dave Matthews, after all, and the number of DMB T-shirts at that Mumford concert over the summer was telling.

Phillips exposes the common threads by embodying them. On Idol, when he got the chance to choose which song to perform, he opted for Dave Matthews Band’s “The Stone” and “Volcano” by Damien Rice, the Irish singer whose bleeding-heart folk is a clear precursor to Marcus Mumford’s anthems. His debut album, The World From The Side Of The Moon, out this week on Interscope, affirms his status as a living, breathing Venn diagram overlap. (Listening to it feels very much like a trip to the mall. Not so much the Olympics.) Every detail vacillates between sounding like a Mumford production and a Matthews production depending on how you crane your ear. Every weathered vocal run is a pivot point, every acoustic strum a litmus test. It reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where the girl Jerry’s dating veers from gorgeous to grotesque depending on the lighting. But it’s still the same girl.

Comments (108)
  1. Fascinating stuff guys, was wondering about this myself ever since I heard “Home” in the Trouble With the Curve” trailer.

  2. Great article. I never though about how this Mumford aesthetic is exploding in a pop culture dominated by club music. I think it really speaks to how acoustic instruments will never go away. There will always be demand for that wood and skin and steel and nylon sound. These bands might be far removed from/ derivative of the old timey music that their attire tries too hard to mimic, but I don’t mind their voices adding some plurality to a mainstream culture ripe with computer pop.

  3. I’m gonna “release a kraken” all over this fargin screen if i see another octopus or double-handled bottle of rum today. please make it stop.

  4. Of Monster and Men could fit in this mix too. Sounds like Arcade Fire and Mumford in a blender. 34 mil views on Youtube.

    • Legit point.

    • I REMEMBER WHEN OF MONSTERS AND MEN WERE STILL MAKING GOOOOOUOUOUD MUSIC…WHEN THEY STILL HAD LARGE ICELANDIC BEARDS. WHEN THEY STILL HUNTED POLAR BEARS AND SACKED MONASTERIES….THOSE WERE THE GOOD OL DAYS NOW THEY JUST SOUND LIKE A BUNCH OF POOPY HEADZ. ONCE THEY CAME TO AMERICA ON THEIR LONG SHIPS AND DROPPED A MASSIVE DEUCE CALLED MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL…. WITH RE RELEASED STUFFZ …………..PROFIT WHORES ARE PROFIT WHORES….IM OUT

  5. Michael_  |   Posted on Nov 19th, 2012 +14

    Great read. I’ve been hating this suit-and-tie folk pop music stuff for years, so I’m glad to see someone deconstruct it down to the monster it is. What’s funny is that Mumford & Sons — even before Sigh No More was a huge success — has flat out refuted to play the Newport Folk Festival because they’ve considered themselves above that. The Festival always points this out year after year before the lineup drops, since they get so many requests from attendees to book them. Obviously, Mumford would never play there nowadays, but it goes to show you they’re just fashion folk and not part of the community and sound they’ve commercially capitalized on.

  6. I don’t have much to say here apart from how much I sincerely fucking hate Mumford and Sons. Faux-lk for the masses who think waistcoats and hipster facial hair are markers of authenticity.

    Also this article was worth it just for leading to my rediscovery of http://whoisarcadefire.tumblr.com/

  7. While its not bad to have some elements of folk in the mainstream, Mumford and Sons are the Nickelback of folk. Every one of their songs follow the same formula.

  8. Interesting piece. In regards to your point on “How did this happen?” I think the popularity of YouTube did more to help this genre than any other.The Kinna Grannis’ and Daniela Andrades of Youtube aren’t as common in rock and dance and pop music, because its harder to replicate a dance, pop, or rock track with just one instrument. Pop-Folk music most easily translates with just an acoustic guitar or a ukelele and a good voice. In some ways, the simpleness of that set up makes those performers more endearing. As their personal popularity grew, I’d argue the demand for that kind of track popularity did as well. In terms of albums, the “Once” soundtrack popularized this genre as much as, if not more, than the Arcade Fire. “Falling Slowly” (which won for Best Song in the Oscars) just begs for a Youtube cover, of which there are thousands. The Broadway adaptation of the movie has also received incredible reviews.

  9. For a second, I thought you were jumping on board with the likes of the Mumfords and whatnot and then you compared it to Dave Matthews Band and Jason Mraz and I was like…phew, stereogum still has some life left.

  10. The real mystery is how the fuck did Marcus Mumford end up marrying the talented and amazing Carey Mulligan?

  11. Great article. There are many things you can half-ass and still have it sound decent, but folk is not one of them.

  12. Fuck Mumford & Sons. Seriously. Fuck ‘em.

  13. I like that the lead singer is not exactly fat, but just very well-fed looking. He’s like a baby seal who’s been doted on by his mother.

  14. It seems like this is the commercial apex of a style that’s been increasingly popular just below the mainstream for quite some time now. At college towns across the nation for the past 5+ years there have been kids lounging on quads belting out “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show and starting pseudo-bluegrass combos at a pretty steady pace.

    I’m deeply ambivalent about the current popularity of this style — I think it’s bland, and at worse, only mildly offensive — but what really pisses me off is the old-timey aesthetic. Just because you own a mandolin doesn’t mean you have the right to dress like an extra from Back to the Future III. Remember, you’re actually not a blacksmith or a dapper woodsman or the proprietor of a sod-floored shoe cobbling shop, you’re just some asshole who can afford extremely impractical clothing.

  15. I would assume that this kind of music would just generally be popular, but radio consolidation means that Clear Channel is very slow to react to new trends and doesn’t create them. These guys break through in random commercials or what not and then people by the music because they are exposed to it. Arcade Fire, DeVotchKa, lots of bands have been out there with maybe related aesthetic- they are just frozen out on radio. Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros= 24 million youtube views because of a commercial.

  16. These guys don’t dress like Wes Anderson characters; they dress like Abraham Lincoln. All you need to do to pull off “the look” is grow out your beard and throw on a vest. Maybe some suspenders. And voila, you’ve got the log cabin look. I think Portlandia summed it up best in the “Dream of the 1890′s” sketch.

  17. Q: What does Marcus Mumford see in his nightmares?
    A: A drum kit.

  18. Marcus Mumford looks like Tim Tebow at a Liberty University formal.

  19. See, I’m annoyed by Mumford and Sons too. But there is nothing that broadcasts your insecurity with your own tastes than having a really strong hatred for them. They’re harmless.

    • not to my ears. God I can’t stand this groaning and whining singer.

    • Harmless is exactly what they are not. Mumford & Sons, and bands like them, are doing a lot of harm, by taking folk music and removing it from its grassroots context and making it into a consumer good. By making it into pop music. A music that was once inspired by grit and reality, and was accessible to all has now become bastardised and sanitised by a handful of the upper-middle-class elite. Their lyrics are empty of real experience or real pain, and overcompensate with grand proclamations and quotations from Shakespeare. These are not people who can really have known the struggle they sing about: almost all of the “nu-folk” that have come to light in the last five years have been from the same three private schools in London.

      And the worst thing, the most harmful thing, about them is their complete lack of self-awareness. It’s the same naivety you see from anyone who has been brought up with money and privilege; a lack of respect, a lack of understanding for things hard-won. No sense of worth. Instead, the attitude that they may take what they like from a musical tradition and use it to further a conservative, backward-looking, consumerist agenda. And the worst part is it’s not even their agenda. I bet they think they really mean it, man. But for me they represent a cultural nadir, and encapsulate a lot of what is wrong with music in our generation.

      And nobody, ever, can be called harmless when they write a lyric as bad as “it’s empty in the valley of your heart.” A valley is, by definition, empty. Fuck these guys.

      • They write about their goddam hearts WAY too much

      • to paraphrase kurt vonnegut, “any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a work of art is preposterous. he is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

        also, a valley is, by definition, a low-lying area of land between hills and mountains.

        • I don’t care what Vonnegut says. He wasn’t talking about Mumford & Sons. And I’m not a reviewer! I don’t know if you’re English, but if you were, you would be able to see that the implications of M&S’s ubiquity and wholehearted embrace by the populous is not harmless; it is symptomatic of a society that attempts to ignore its current social problems with nostalgia and sentimentality. And don’t forget that M&S are from the upper class, and not exposed to any of the uncomfortable aspects of English society that their music helps to provide a convenient smokescreen for. Try thinking with your own brain instead of Vonnegut’s, stop trying to maintain an intellectual, objective distance, and you might see that the art people are exposed to on radio, TV and other media has a direct effect on their lives, one which can either be helpful or harmful. Feeling emotions like hatred and anger, or any emotion, towards art is not preposterous, but rather the correct response to a medium that attempts to appeal to people primarily on an emotional level.

          And yes, a low-lying area between hills and mountains. You’re being pedantic.

          • fuckin italics

          • Really. With regards to the ENTIRE Billboard top 100, and the current top TV shows, and the top box office hits, I’d rank them pretty low on the “harmful” list. They write vapid lyrics. They aren’t sexist, abusive, racist, bigoted, etc. etc…

          • Tell us how you really feel?

            “not exposed to any of the uncomfortable aspects of English society that their music helps to provide a convenient smokescreen for.”

            Oh, and honey, although Mumford & Sons is British, they are using American roots folk music as a basis for their sound, it’s not fucking British.

  20. This is actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I like a lot of the modern folk movement (Mumford has some songs I like, some songs I don’t). My only issue comes when really good indie bands can’t advance to Mumford’s degree of popularity because mainstream music’s rule of only having one indie band on the radio at a time is being filled by bands that fit into the Mumford mold.

  21. I guess I’ll go against the consensus here: I don’t really mind anything about them. As far as trends and the commercialization of a specific sound/genre go, this one is pretty harmless. I’ll take a bunch of 19th Century dressed faux folk heroes over most of the mind numbing dance music that all follows the same basic thumping structure that can put an unprepared listener into a state of comatose.

    I mean, as long as fun. exists, my ‘fuck these guys’ mentality will be focused elsewhere.

  22. I cant help but feel this comment thread would be totally different if Pitchfork and Stereogum had “discovered” Mumford & Sons a few years ago, and if we hadn’t heard their songs millions of times in every mall or grocery store we step foot in.

    • yeahhh… but the reason Pitchfork and Stereogum didn’t “discover” Mumford and Sons is because they’re a shitty band.

      While sites like these, namely Pitchfork, definitely have a disproportionately powerful tastemaking ability, I still think that the general public would eventually revolt against a 9.3 BNM for “Sigh No More”.

      • No. Pitchfork and Stereogum didn’t “discover” this band in 2010 because they weren’t playing chillwave. From what I’ve heard (because I don’t actually listen to them), M&S isn’t sufficiently hip, they don’t have enough reverb, and they don’t have random blips and whorls. If M&S weren’t an earnest folk-pop band and instead sounded more like…the King of Limbs…they’d have been “discovered” by the tastemaking music blogs.

        I read Stereogum every day, and every day I wish people would break away from the fucking groupthink that leads one person to pick a popular band (maybe next week will be Dave Matthews Band), and a legion of followers to click thumbs up and say, “Yes, I too am so much better than people who like DMB.” Let’s have a little perspective and self-reflection, and not just do the whole mutually masturbatory bitch-sessions, okay?

  23. Interesting article.

  24. So what’s the deal – the way Mumford and Sons dress, or that their interpretation of folk has been widely accepted because, heaven forbid, it’s catchy and encourages people to be better people? Or that it’s inspirational?

    Hell, I love a sad song as much as the other guy. Maybe more. But I can also love a song that makes me feel better.

    I like em. Ever since the first chords of Little Lion Man, and I heard that without all the olde-timey asthetic they offer up, so the image had nothing to do with it. It was the song, pure and simple.

    Why is it happening? Because for every action – EDM – there is a reaction – folk music. Always has been. One will fill the void the other creates.

    I can accept others don’t like them. But hating on them in such an angry way doesn’t put you in a good light. I don’t like lots of other stuff. But I handle that others like it.

  25. You at least have to appreciate the fact that the banjo can still be popular to the masses even in this age of EDM

  26. I’ll be honest, I really like Mumford & Sons. In fact, when I first heard them back in 2009, I became obsessed (At the time I was just a casual alt-rock station listener). Some of that love has deteriorated since, but I still thoroughly enjoy their music. In fact, if I hadn’t have heard them, I would have never gotten into more indie stuff like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. So maybe their music, while somewhat generic, can help introduce people to other, smaller artists.

    • Right on man! I’m not that big on Babel but in the summer of 2009 I LOVED Little Lion Man. I don’t really understand why people hate them so much, I think too much weight is placed on the notion of ‘realness’ in the musical landscape. This music’s harmless and some people like it, that’s all there is to it really.

    • For my friends who are less music-nerdy, Mumford has been a gateway to good music. When they ask me who else they might like, I’ll steer them towards things like Tallest Man on Earth or Punch Brothers. And from there, possibilities are endless. We all had that slightly embarrassing band that led to the music we like, and Mumford and Sons isn’t even embarrassing.

      • For sure, first album I ever bought was smash mouth. I just bought my 12 year old cousin the first fun. album. It’s the first (and maybe only) album he’s ever owned. Is this a band I think is amazing? No. Are they my cousins favourite band and has he played the album eight times in a row? Yes. I guess I’m saying that music shouldn’t be hated on because someone loves that album and theres nothing wrong with that. 

        • Yes! Even tracing back to M&S’s early days leads us to artists like Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, Noah & The Whale, Tallest Man on Earth, all artists that I very much respect and don’t begrudge the success of.

      • Mumford and Sons member Ben Lovett’s Communion record label has led me to some of my current favorite acts.

  27. Uh, ima just go ahead and say this: I’m looking around steroegum about once a week to see what there is to be crotchety about, and low and behold we got Mumford & Sons, Big Boi, Sufjan Stevens, Dismemberment Plan, bad advertisements, The Predator, and all I can really think about aside from how slow of a independent news cycle this must be is,

    “Shit, guys, this is a sad testament to what a pretty cool site used to be. I mean, come on, here we all are with hands, brains, and dicks and all we can do is complain about Mumford & Sons and some jackass from American Idol happening carelessly onto Top 40 radio?”

    If you are finding yourself more in the “Fuck these guys” than “Who gives a fuck about these guys?” camp, then you are in serious need of some perspective on what the fuck the meaning of life is. Let’s go, Sterogum.

    • Is the meaning of life to bitch on music blogs?

      • Not really sure about yours, but, “Part of the meaning of life is to bitch on music blogs.” would be my answer. Judging from the number of “I hate Mumford & Sons” comments and “This is all NMH’s fault” comments, then I would say many others have also co-opted that take. Not to say that the majority of people are right. Just saying that like-minded people normally congregate in the same place (though I most certainly do not share Stereogum’s overt love of a) Radiohead; b) Animal Collective; c) Lists written by trolls), and I think that we can congregate around some more stimulating topics than some of the ones posted recently. I thought that the Sufjan piece was well-written, but shit, I thought that guy died like two years ago.

        And I know that you were just being a bitch with your comment, spenny, so you also enjoy bitching on music blogs.

    • No seriously, man….fun….fuck those guys.

  28. My 4th favorite album of all time is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. However, just like NIRVANA, NMH has inspired a lot of people to start playing vastly inferior versions of their music, the first in this long line being the horribly annoying Decemberists. I personally think that if you put your mind to it you could trace a line of increasingly less indie, less challenging, and less substantive folk rock bands directly from the unique and brilliant NMH to the safe and stupid Mumford and Sons. Stereogum, wanna totally freak out your readers? Make an article about THAT. God knows that it’s been hard enough for me to come to grips with it.

  29. I’m from MN and listen to the station that pretty much broke M&S into the US (TheCurrent if anyone cares to fact check me). I will outright say I am a Mumford & Sons fan; dislike me all you want. The reason I have no qualms saying this is because when they were new, there was nothing like them. Sure there was folk, but not anything that was appealing on such a basic level. They played loud, thumping, emotional music that you could just as much bump in your car as you could quietly listen to at home. I won’t sit here and say they are revolutionary and even necessarily good, but I don’t think that’s the point. I may be excommunicated from the indie community, but I will continue to enjoy the Lumineers, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, the Avett Bros, et. al.

  30. This is all Jeff Mangum’s fault.

  31. If anybody is interested I wrote a “Catchy, Good, or Both” about yelling “HEY!” Kind of applies to a lot of these bands. Check it out if interested, and downvote away, hatiiis.

    http://happymusicsadmusic.blog.com/2012/07/24/catchy-good-or-both-hey/

  32. Mumford & Sons didn’t appear out of nowhere. I feel like people here are giving them shit, as if they were created & stylized out of a major label test-tube. Anybody can read a wikipedia page to get an idea of where they came from… try it!

    Its also not a terrible thing when a band hits with a mainstream record that isn’t quite awful. I can’t say I’m a Killers fan, but that first record was pop music that nobody should be ashamed to listen to. I’d equate the first Mumford & Sons record to that – a big hit that is quality enough that you shouldn’t discourage a musically-taste challenged friend from embracing. It could open new doors…

  33. They’re not the worst, but it’s so cool to hate them it seems.

  34. I was disappointed to learn that those guys aren’t actually his sons. That’s where my distaste for them stems from.

    My real problem with their music is the lack of modesty. It all sounds like they are trying SO HARD and with press photos like the one above it looks like it too. I like (love, rather) woe-is-me sad stuff but these guys just rub me the wrong way. It’s like they’re boasting about their sad feelings, and they offer no cleverness, originality, or subtlety. I saw the Avett Brothers at ACL and would put them in this category too, but maybe not quite as damningly so.

    Extremely nitpick-y sounding but with all the other stuff I’d rather listen to, well, that’s how it is.

  35. The biggest sign for me that I didn’t enjoy Mumford & Sons when I first heard of them, is that I sincerely, wholeheartedly could not tell their songs apart when they’d come on the radio. I had no idea which was which, because they’re all identical, as one commenter already mentioned. Formulaic, focus group-ed, calculated mass market indie rock. It’s easy to see right through it. Especially when it is this gimmicky and calculated.

  36. I don’t really understand why people love or hate Mumford & Sons.
    Pros: catchy songs, a change from EDM, cute outfits.
    Cons: songs sound the same, cute outfits, folk-pop bastardization

    I don’t know. I’ve enjoyed (briefly) some of their songs I’ve heard. My biggest problem is that their songs are too happy/inspirational. I like my folk to be soul-crushing.

  37. I was under the impression that Mumford and Sons was a popular furniture outlet, thank you for clearing this up

  38. not gonna lie. im not a big fan of M&S…they just kinda annoy me. but to be honest, i have thoroughly enjoyed the lumineers s/t. i think the whole things great and one of the best of the years… anyone agree??

  39. I’m surprised City & Colour weren’t mentioned in the article. The only thing less genuine than a singer from a post-hardcore band turning into a dubstep icon is a singer from a post-hardcore band turning into a folk icon. But hey, Dallas Green sold out the Molson Amphitheatre (30,000 + capacity) this past September and is considered “the next Neil Young”.

    To his credit though, he was doing the folksy thing a little before the Mumfords came about.

    Sidenote- I’ve hung out with Mumford and Sons after an interview and they are actually very nice and funny guys. Meh music, but good people.

    • Also Dallas Green sings (pretty well too) and Skrillex pushes buttons on a laptop.

    • I actually got a free ticket to that show at the Molson Ampitheatre, which also featured the Avett Brothers.

      I can’t say I’m a fan of either band/artist, but I was definitely impressed by Dallas Green. The dude is an undeniably talented guitarist and singer, and can also pump out radio-ready heart wrenchers without stooping to incredibly cliched lyrics about how bad his heart hurts n shit.
      I mean, all he writes about is lost love, but at least he’s somewhat subtle about it.

      I don’t know…fuck it.

      Also, I saw Neil Young last night and he’s easily one billion times better than City & Colour.

  40. Haha, I just read the review on the Quietus. They seem to hate M&S more than anyone who commented above.

  41. I would actually like to argue that this is a great thing for the music culture.

    First of all, I would take this over any Pitbull song any day. At least these artists are using real instruments and writing about actual things besides popping champagne in a club.

    Secondly, if my generation (I’m 16) latches on to this music, they are likely to branch out into other similar stuff. If someone decides to check out “Sigh No More” on iTunes, they might look at the related albums and discover other bands like Fleet Foxes, Death Cab, Florence, or Arcade Fire. A more diverse mainstream would allow for a more equal distribution of music fans between the different genres and how people “define” their music tastes (i.e. pop, rap, indie, jazz, etc).

    It’s so hard for me to find peers who listen to the same music as I do. In fact it’s considered weird and people crack jokes about it alot. Just in the past few months I’ve heard people talking about alt-rock stuff way more often. I think the people who weren’t too invested in music before because all they knew was the mainstream pop stuff and they didn’t really enjoy it are now investing time into these new genres popping up on top 40 radio.

    Also, it’s not just these bands getting exposure. Do you know how often I hear people humming/singing “Take a Walk” or “Little Talks” or “Midnight City?” A lot nowadays. Even actual pop music has gotten better; two of the biggest songs over the last year or so have been “Somebody I Used to Know” and virtually any Adele song off of “21.” Hopefully this is signaling an increase in music overall and not just indie becoming popular.

    P.S. sorry for that wall of text.

  42. I’m not a fan of M&S, but I’ve got two things to say here…

    First, they all play instruments and play them well.

    Second, they play them on stage, live, in front of audiences, with no fucking backing tracks, and they play them well.

    That is so much more than so many “popular” acts are doing these days.

    …. that’s all.

  43. Is this kind of development in pop music really that surprising? There will always be a huge demographic listening to Top 40 radio pining for something far less urban/electronic. Hell, it’s not a development at all. Americana has always had it’s place on the pop charts outside of Country. Folk music (regardless of how bastardized it is in one’s opinion) will always be commercially viable.

  44. I was fascinated to see this article, as it’s something I think about a lot. I grew up in the same town as the Avett Brothers, and really connected with their early stuff. They captured the desperation and boredom and the stupid idiosyncrasies of living in a small NC town. And then the musical landscape changed, and they went from being a somewhat authentic (or at least respectful) string band to being a pop band that incorporated folksy elements (the “bluegrass” breakdown at the end of “Laundry Room” is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard). Their music went from soundtracking my life, to soundtracking Parenthood. And now they’re just a drop in the ocean of “Aw shucks, feeling nostalgic for something you’ve never felt cause you’re an upper-middle class teenager?”

  45. My first thought on Phillip Phillips was Dave Matthews meets Arcade Fire.

  46. the head and the heart anyone? they’re not BAD, and they’re not quite as divisive as mumford (despite that one pitchfork review) but they are essentially folk-pop for the smartphone ad age.

  47. A good article and an issue that has occurred to me in recent months. I started noticing this indie folk/top 40 crossover during the summer. I think you could have mentioned Of Monsters and Men as another example of a ‘Mumfordized’ band.

  48. Guys, there isn’t really any reason to hate this. They’re not terrible, but they’re certainly not good. In fact, they’re The Eagles. You guys remember The Eagles? Joe Walsh and Don Henley and some other guys no one knows. They were cocaine cowboys before that was a thing, or they started it; or, whatever. Basically The Eagles took what much better acts like Graham Parsons and The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers had done for country rock, culled all the interesting aspects out of the music, and turned it into yacht music yuppies could have awkward sex to.

    Mumford is exactly like that. They subtracted all the confrontational stances of folkies like Woody and Arlo Guthrie and the philosophical quandaries of a Dylan or even the more recent ham-fisted (but still appreciated) attempts by Fleet Foxes, so they could sing about hearts. They aren’t about anything, except maybe fashion. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Disco wasn’t about anything. But disco can be fun. Mumford isn’t not fun, but they’re most certainly not fun. If I had to sum up Mumford in a phrase to put on a CD jacket or vinyl sleeve for their next album, it would be: the suburban malaise of cruising bars in suspenders.

  49. i think the success of Once–first as a movie, then as a Broadway musical–is also a telling precursor. I also think that this is one of the reasons why so many people have issues with Mumford and Sons–compared to Glen Hansard, every Mumford song sounds disingenuous. It’s a shame Swell Season aren’t together anymore, because Irglova and Hansard would have made a great “first couple” of indie-folk-rock-gone-mainstream.

  50. It’s always interesting to see how a community that prides itself on being different from the mainstream can also be so single-mindedly smug.

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