A week-and-a-bit ago, I had nothing but bad things to say about Mumford & Sons.
I was in Los Angeles, attempting to drive over to my friend Aaron's place to pick him up so we could go party-hopping and dangle ourSelves in front of the starry-eyed masses for their approval (because nothing says "Adore Me" in Los Angeles like than a bunch of North Carolina Boys in jeans and navajo-print flannel shirts).
I say "attempting to drive over," because even though it was nearly eight o'clock and Aaron theoretically lived only about fifteen minutes away, it ended up taking nearly an hour because of the traffic.
This all made sense after I'd crept off the freeway and crawled my way along the maybe half-mile stretch to Aaron's condo, where I saw a sign that said something about "event parking," and I remembered that a girl I'd just met and gone hiking with that afternoon had told me she was going to spend the evening with a friend and a bottle of wine, looking down some hillside to snake a free Mumford & Sons show at some outdoor theater.
Mumford & Sons: May their name live in traffic-thick infamy.
Except... some of my favorite, most musically-gifted students of the past few years spend half their Facebook time linking Mumfordian videos and the other half giggling their undying adulation, and I realized I'd been hearing these clowns pretty much everywhere.
Now, part of this writing job I've hired myself for is to live in the joyful spaces created by great art. So today, when I saw yet another Face-link to something MumfianSonsish, I decided to go ahead and watch the nearly hour-long Live on Letterman Thingamabob.
It's now an hour later, and I don't think I can do better than to embed that baby right here on my site:
I am not and (God Preserve Me!) never will be much of a critic; so rather than cobbling together murderous words that'll dissect the life right out of this music, I'll just throw out a few impressions of why I think so many men, women and children are throwing their metaphorical-musical-underpants at these guys, right now.
First, I think they steal really, really broadly. There are traces of all sorts of other great musicians in their work, and there is comfort in being able to place them into the wider tradition and conversation of musical art.
Second, I think their music is very emotional. Although it's absolutely the product of endless hours of practice, practice, practice, the end result maintains a raw, visceral connection to an emotional experience that resonates as true, and therefore is very inviting.
Third, I think their music is very cerebral. You can't use lyrics like "sanguine eyes" and not give jollies to a wordophile such as myself.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, I think their music is metaphysical. I've only ever looked at the lyrics of a few songs, but it seems to me that although much of it may be about girls and relationships and the stuff of all popular music, they also point to the ineffable. In a sense, all their songs feel to me to be a bit about God... or at least, the yearning after God-and-the-Ineffable that I think we all somedays feel.
Take, for example, the song, Lover of the Light.
Actually, no. Don't take it. Watch the video, listen to the song, and then we'll talk:
Now, wasn't that great? And not just because you got to watch that beautiful black man, Idris Elba, be Idris Elba. It was more than that, wasn't it? More than the music and the visuals and the words -- more, as all great art is, than the sum of its parts.
Here we have a fusion of fractal Images. Of sounds. Words. Silences... a Wild Thing.
A man who, robbed of light, still loves it -- still lives rich in the fullness of a world that breathes with beauty... with LIFE. He is blind, but still we get a sense that he really, really sees the world around him.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever," Keats said, and went on to speak with glowing love of the woods, valleys, fields and flowers that pulse with the divine. This song itself is, I think, one of those things.
No art is perfect, no.
Mumford & Sons might or might not stand the test of time -- speaking on to future generations of that ineffable thing towards which we turn our faces in wonder, like flowers to the sun. But for now, their thievery, heart, mind and soul have coalesced to give us moments of real beauty.
A thing of beauty. A joy divine.
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