Kiefer’s Music Mondays: Mumford & Sons’ ‘Sigh No More’

The album that broke indie-folk into the mainstream is a heck of a lot deeper than banjos and catchy choruses.

“And at this point he would infer and conclude that this it is that provides the seasons and the courses of the year…”

As the first decade of the new millennium came to a close, the music scene had made some drastic leaps and bounds in 10 short years. Yet as indie rock and alternative music found its way to the forefront of media, a subsequent counterculture within itself was being born. Enter: Mumford & Sons.

With the release of their debut album 10 years ago this month, a brilliant fascinating story unfolded, and ended up changing the entire world. A clever self-analysis, a cogitation on the human condition, their debut album, Sigh No More, spoke to our souls about what it is to simply be human and how very un-simple that is.

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.”

It begins with an authentic use of harmony. Bringing rustic folk styles back from the grave, Marcus Mumford and his merry band of misfits approached music in a way we had long forgotten: sincerely. Upright bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion and rudimentary percussion ensemble bring us the awe-inspiring sound of Sigh No More. Yet, in all its genius use of folk genre stylings, this album really took over the world with Mumford’s cunning talent in the songwriting department.

“The Cave” is an allusion to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” in which a point is made as to how our understanding of what makes us human is so strongly based on society and our ability to grow with others, wherein Mumford is implying that he fell from that social construct and therefore lost much of what makes him him. It’s a parable on the consequences of how we interact with one another; bad relationships can sour our understanding of how they are to work.

Throughout the album there are a ton of Christian references. It isn’t by any means a Christian album, but an understanding of these metaphors certainly aid in Mumford’s analysis of our species. A great example is “The Cave” refers to an allegory that predates monotheism, but in several places he refers to “The Maker” and “His” land, to imply a sense of naturalism, if not necessarily the biblical creation of Earth.

While “Roll Away Your Stone” is a clear reference of the resurrection of Christ, it’s mainly about the resurrection of ourselves after relationships fail. For one of us to roll away the imprisonment of our heart’s tomb and carry on is to help the other to roll away their stone as well.

Other songs utilize literary references, such as John Steinbeck’s East Of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, known for their deep understandings of human nature. 

The album’s title refers to William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, where several of the lyrics are directly adapted from the play, including the opening line by Balthasar (Act 2, Scene 3):

“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”

Talk about a perfect distillation of what Mumford is really trying to get at with this recording.

The album as a whole has a really sincere cadence, based on a series of nicely worded quips of prodigious moral simplicity:

“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die, where you invest your love you invest your life.”

“Love that will not betray you, dismay, or enslave you, it will set you free.”

“If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could’ve won.”

“There will come a time you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you find there, with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”

Taking the world by storm and subsequently evolving the music industry once again, with its focus on folk music as pop music, Sigh No More became a staple of everyday radio. By February 2010, when the album reached American audiences, the British quartet was selling out arenas. A whole wave of artists followed closely in suit with similar styles to Mumford and the boys, filling the Billboard charts with acoustic folk euphoria.

With the transcendence of a formerly very niche genre to come to the forefront of culture and media a new world was upon us; and in a single trip around the sun Sigh No More almost single-handedly changed the music industry, and our society as a whole, just by simply evaluating the single most thing we all have in common: what it is to be human.

“Sing no more ditties, sing no mo,
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leavy.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey, nonny nonny.”

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