I’m not expecting to hear many sonic similarities between these two. Mumford Sons are a pop-folk band with a banjo, whereas Four Tet is one man, Kieran Hebden, making electronica/techno/whatever exactly you call it. Mumford and Sons sing (with harmonies and everything), Four Tet sometimes cuts up a female vocal and loops it, and you can dance to his creations. Both are from London, but apart from that, I’m not seeing a lot of over-lap.
Mumford and Sons are apparently everyone’s favourite folk band at the moment; I can only presume they have been subject to a gigantic marketing push, because I don’t believe this music is anything especially new (prove me wrong, album!). Certainly, they seem to have featured in the BBC’s festival coverage, along with the ubiquitous Florence and the Machine, and are played on Radios 1, 2 and 6. Whatever the reason, they seem to be MASSIVE at the moment; are they worthy? Should they be referred to instead as ‘Bumford and Sons’, as some have suggested?
Their debut album is called ‘Sigh No More’ and features such folky instruments as mandolin, accordion and prominent banjo. They craft some fairly nice music with these, very melodic, and it is nice to hear more traditional instruments being brought to, and enjoyed by a broad audience; this record sounds pleasantly different from a lot of the ‘indie’ it is being presented alongside. Of course, when considered alongside folk music, it is not doing anything particularly new, but in a more popular context the sound is fairly refreshing.
When it comes to the vocals, I believe every single track on this album features the trick of main man Mr Marcus Mumford (mmmm, alliteration…) being joined, often on the chorus, by the ‘aaaahing’ collective voices of his so-called ‘Sons’. I’m sure you will be familiar already with the sound this makes, given the aforementioned airwave ubiquity, but if you listen to this album, you will be VERY familiar with it. It is quite a good trick, sounding energetic, harmonious and potentially exciting, but they overuse it much too much, giving off the air of a one trick pony. Even songs that are almost vocally solo like ‘I Gave You All’ can’t help slipping in their trademark. (I have checked, and yes, literally every track on ‘Sigh No More’ does do this to some extent). It could be argued that Fleet Foxes do a similar thing, but team Mumford don’t have such fantastic voices as team Fleet, and leader Marcus is no Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes lead singer).
So this is no bad album. It doesn’t really deserve to be derided as awful; often the reaction people have to music that is shoved down their throats constantly (as this has been). But it also isn’t really worthy of being the Best Thing Ever and filling the John Peel tent at Glastonbury beyond capacity. And it isn’t worthy of winning a Mercury either. Unless you really, REALLY, love that vocal trick…
Four Tet is pretty big in indie/electronica circles, although obviously he does not have anywhere near the reach of Mumfords. This album ‘There is Love in You’ focuses the Four Tet sound down to the dancier end of electronic music, more so than some earlier ‘folktronica’ (not a great word) albums. This is particularly obvious on what is pretty definitely the king track on this album, ‘Love Cry’. Building over 9 minutes, it has the foundation of a lovely beat, and piles on a female vocal chanting the song’s title, some more pieces of percussion, some synth bass, other synth lines, more slices of vocal, some beeps… The effect is excellent, almost hypnotic, with the repetitive yet growing sound drawing you in. I imagine it working best when dominating a room somewhere in the early AMs, but this track (and this album) is well suited to ‘home listening’ also.
‘Love Cry’ does, in truth, sort of dominate this album. Nothing can really match it, although some tracks do come close. ‘Sing’ is a high point, with it’s glitchy… glitchsound. Whatever it is, it hops into your head, makes you dance, and it be good. ‘Angel Echoes’ meanwhile makes a very good starter for the album, drifting in with another very well chopped vocal at its centre, and various other tones, chimes and instruments delicately surrounding it.
The album’s second half is a little more melancholy, and a little less memorable. Two tracks, ‘This Unfolds’ and ‘She Just Likes To Fight’ are driven by calm guitar lines and real-life percussion; this is certainly not an entirely electronic album. But the listener will most likely be drawn to the first half of ‘There is Love in You’ much more than the second. What would have improved Side 2 (if you listen on vinyl) is the presence of Four Tet’s fairly recent collaboration with Burial, ‘Moth’. The addition of this 9 minute masterpiece would mirror ‘Love Cry’, and give this album more balance (as well as a great tune!). What’s there instead is good, but it isn’t all that special.
But ‘There is Love in You’s high points are enough to make it a very fine album, even if it doesn’t quite become great. And it’s a shame something like this didn’t make it to the Mercury shortlist; it would have added some variety to a list which more or less ignores the variety of electronic music being produced at the time. More simply though, ‘There is Love in You’ beats ‘Sigh no More’ in this competition because it is a better album.
Mercury: 1 / Neptune: 2