The Mumford & Sons Effect

M&S outside

You probably groaned when you read this title, thinking something along the lines of “Mumford & Sons AGAIN? If I have to hear that damn banjo band one. more. time…” But is it really the banjo’s fault? Is it Mumford & Sons’ fault?

NO! Your frustration would be better directed at your local radio stations instead of this homegrown British group. They’re just another casualty of the politics of airwaves: popular bands must be played more than regularly to appease the average listener who will thus hear that song at least once every time they hop in their car. This undesired and unpleasant overexposure of a band’s music is what I call “The Mumford & Sons Effect”. The bands themselves don’t dictate your exposure to their music, and that’s the core of the problem. Mumford & Sons’ sound isn’t created for hourly replay, top 40 radio, or even arena stages. I bet if they chose, you would be listening to their music on vinyl in the middle of a sunflower field.

I wish I’d seen Mumford & Sons a few years ago when they were playing at little podunk venues around Britain. Maybe a shoddy bar in London where they got a little tipsy on stage and started to slur and rambunctiously giggle through their set, or an acoustic session out in the verdant English countryside where the wind carried their music to my ears. Their sound is full and grand because it’s so natural and antiquated: banjo’s, mandolins, fiddle, trumpet, that rough edge to Marcus Mumford’s voice, and three other bearded men on vocals. How can you hate something so innocent?

Thus I postulate, you don’t hate Mumford & Sons. You hate the promulgation of Mumford & Sons. You resent that over the last few years, your ears were inundated, verging on drowned, by “Little Lion Man”, “The Cave”, “I Will Wait”, and “Lover of the Light” on your daily commute to and from work. Before radio happened to “Little Lion Man”, it was a beautiful song: the tale of a man who must come to terms with the loss of his courageous lion heart. It was a tender and compelling story and you felt it…the first hundred or so times you heard it.

It’s bad enough that Radio took these great songs and wrung the love out of them with each replay, but they also befuddled their own “genre” system. This is apparent in music award shows where a folky band like Mumford & Sons overruns the category of “Rock”. (Some say this genre confusion has lead to the supposed death of Rock ‘n Roll.) But is that their fault? Again, NO. Rather, it’s a consequence of the limitations in music promotion that we must categorize and label every band. And if they don’t fit? Shove them in a genre and in so doing, muddle the clarity of that genre.

If Mumford & Sons was still lugging their banjos and mandolins around little venues in the U.K.; If Mumford & Sons was still your band, your secret band, the one that you listen to in bed after a hard day, maybe then the integrity of their music would’ve been upheld. But now, it’s overplayed and concurrently underappreciated: The Mumford & Sons Effect.

Hopefully if you began reading this article with contempt for Mumford & Sons, you’re now willing to reimagine their music back in it’s original, organic setting. Turn the lights down, tuck yourself into bed, and tune into “After The Storm”; scale back your antipathy and re-establish your appreciation for this unpretentious and heart-wrenching, au natural and honest band “with Grace in your heart and flowers in your hair”.

Remember, Radio thinks you WANT bands like Mumford & Sons on repeat. They think you NEED a genre label for a band or you won’t give it a try. But you can fight back. Let them know you want to hear a veritable mix of songs, not the top 5 hit singles every 80 minutes, the top 10 songs from the 90’s every 3 hours, and 1 new song once a week. You tell ‘em that you don’t give a **** which genre they label the band, you just want good music. Butt Rock, Folk Polk, Sly-Fi, you just want to jam. And what better way than with glorified banjo?

– Sydne


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