Mumford & Sons is easily, without question, my favorite band. Not only do they produce truly great music, but one cannot help but have an artistic appreciation for their work. But even more than that, they were the most powerful force in reintroducing the folk genre to main stream music.
The band recently released a new EP that is undoubtedly their strangest collection of songs yet. This mini-album, entitled Johannesburg, sees the band teaming up with African musicians Baaba Maal, Beatenberg and The Very Best (none of which I have heard of) to create stylistically similar tunes to their previous work, with an African flare thrown into the mix.
In honor of their new EP, I thought it would be fun to run through their entire discography and come up with a list of my top ten favorite songs from my favorite band. Some of these will be their bigger hits that most of you will have heard, others might only be recognizable to fans. While coming up with this list, I felt like I was committing blasphemy by not including some songs. It's so hard to choose the best when most of what they've produced (in my opinion) is very, very good music. Even so, I feel like these ten earn their place for a variety of different reasons. So, with all that said, here are my top ten favorite Mumford & Sons songs:
10. Below My Feet
Coming from their sophomore album, Below My Feet features some of the band's best lyrics. The song feels very spiritual, almost like a prayer-asking God to "keep the earth below my feet". This is undoubtedly a cry of hope that their success from their first album wouldn't dwindle out too soon. The speaker knows that he is open to failure, and still needs to be wise and alert despite his previous successes in life, hence the line "keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn". With a smooth hum thrown into the opening, this song is the definition of "meditative", while also picking up the pace to a very catchy beat.
9. There Will Be Time
If this were written a few years from now, this song might be higher on the list. It is very new, however, so it hasn't had the opportunity to stand the test of time like others on this list. Even so, There Will Be Time is one of their best songs in years. It was the first single released from the forthcoming Johannesburg, and it is immidiialtey striking for it's very worldly vibe. Similar to Below My Feet, it begins on a slow note with an alternation between Marcus Mumford's raspy British vocals and Baaba Maal's smooth African singing. However, after that, the song explodes into an anthem of love. It really is a remarkably unique song, and it is sure to become known as one of their very best.
8. Roll Away Your Stone
This is the song that introduced me to Mumford. It's also the song that probably had a lot of people scratching their heads asking, "Are they a Christian band?" While that theory has since been negated, the song does feature a strong presence of Christ and actually does illustrate the journey of coming to understand the Gospel very accurately. As a secular piece, it can be taken as a song about letting down your walls and letting others in. As amazing as the lyrics are, though, it's the final burst into stomping and yelling-a staple of Mumford's music-that really steals the show. It feels like a celebration.
7. Sigh No More
The titular song of their very first album, Sigh No More, introduces audiences to the band with all of the things Mumford has come to be known for. It's a very simple song, featuring lots of yelling and an uplifting spirit-with the heavy dose acoustic guitar and banjo there to give it it's spirit. It's kind of underrated actually, and that's a shame. I can't help but smile when I hear Mumford's voice exclaiming it's chorus over and over again, "Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you-it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be." If you ever find yourself frustrated with the world around us, or people in your life, this song is guaranteed to perk you up
This is probably the best song on Mumford's third album, Wilder Mind (aka, the one where they went electric). While many took issue with the band abandonidning their banjos and acoustic guitars, Ditmas was catchy enough to make everyone who listened forget about all of that. This was probably also because it wasn't quite as jarring as the other wild song on the record, The Wolf, which is a good song but was definitely more of a culture shock to old fans with it's pure rock & roll blood. While it's not as loud as The Wolf, Ditmas does retain the untamed spirit of Mumford's older music, which is admittedly absent from most of Wilder Mind. I have no idea what the word "ditmas" actually means or what it might be a reference to, but I love the song.
5. Lover Of The Light
In a world where music seems to be dominated by break up songs, or songs about having the greatest number of partners possible, it's refreshing to hear a love song about commitment. Lover Of The Light is a song celebrating a steady relationship, in which the speaker is happy to finally have someone who will stay with him despite the mistakes he has made and will make. He honors this person who has committed to him, saying that he "will build a throne, and wash my eyes out never again." From there, the song moves into it's chorus where it tells it's audience to "love the one you hold" and he himself "will be your (his lover's) gold". The song also features a heavy dose of percussion and brass, more so than their other songs. With that, the song really does feel like a celebration, similar to Roll Away Your Stone. I imagine getting married one day, and feeling the way that the speaker of this song feels. Actually, the album Babel-on which this song appears-was released around the time that Marcus Mumford married his wife, Carey Mulligan. I don't think this is a coincidence at all, and that fact makes the song all the more heartwarming.
4. Dust Bowl Dance
This song is right behind There Will Be Time in regards to the title of their most unique song. Dust Bowl Dance was the first hint of an electric sound that Mumford threw into their music. Even more than that, though, it has the most interesting lyrics of any song of theirs. This is storytelling at it's best in modern music, an art which has sadly been on the decline in the last twenty years. Dust Bowl Dance follows a young man living in Dust Bowl America and his struggle to survive. In his struggle, he comes to a place of anger and seeks to avenge everything he's lost. "I went out back and I got my gun," Mumford sings, "I said you haven't met me, I am the only son."
3. I Will Wait
This is probably their most popular song. I Will Wait was the highlight of their second album, and with good reason. It's got a fairly simply message on the surface that falls in line with most of today's popular love songs. However, some have theorized that Mumford is actually talking to God as opposed to a woman. It's a perfectly legitimate theory when you consider that the end of the song features the lyrics, "Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold. And bow my head, keep my heart slow." This perspective gives the song entirely new depth, in my opinion, and I prefer to listen to it from that perspective. I say all this without having even mentioned the fantastically wild acoustic guitar and banjo-not to mention great use of a mariachi band at the end.
2. Little Lion Man
This song might also be known as the "F-word song" in their library. While the band does curse in a couple of other songs, this is easily their most popular employment of the bomb. Despite the language-which is usually a turn off for me when I listen to music-I cannot help but love Little Lion Man. It's a song about regret, and wishing to make up for mistakes. It was also their debut single, which makes it all the more special. More than both of those things, though, it features some of the best harmonizing ever in music. Anyone who has listened to the song knows what I'm talking about. For me, that beautiful sound makes the cursing worth it. The video below is a link to the (rare) "Messed Up" version. It's a little bit poorer in recording quality than the normal version, but I felt it was more appropriate for use here.
1. The Cave
Not only is this my favorite Mumford & Sons song, but it's one of my favorite songs of all time period. I consider this to be the Shawshank Redemption of music, thematically speaking. The Cave is a glorious celebration of endurance and redemption, featuring some of the most intelligent lyrics written in probably the last twenty years. With allusions to all sorts of "sophisticated" literature, it can only be fully appreciated after multiple listenings and a little bit of research. At the heart of the song, however, is that amazingly hopeful chorus: "And I will hold on hope. And I won't let you choke on the noose around your neck. And I'll find strength in pain. And I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again!" Those aren't just good lyrics, those are words to live by.