Ahead of new record ‘Wilder Mind’, Mumford & Sons have promised to burn down the nu-folk barn in an electric blaze, a move that’s left fans in tortured fits of nerves. These 20 songs remind us why their blend of festival pop and hay-bale bluegrass has always occupied a field of its own.
20 ‘Roll Away Your Stone’
On ‘Sigh No More’, an album that did for barn dances what Skrillex did for raves, ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ was the most barn-dancey song of all, with its herky-jerk chorus swaggering along like a straw-chewing teenager who’s been at the village mead.
19 ‘Hopeless Wanderer’
A gentle, piano-led gallop of an intro gets thrashed into a folk waltz on this gleaming ‘Babel’ single. “I will learn to love the skies I’m under,” promises the epic finale, with a hint more passion than sense.
18 ‘Holland Road’
An inner-city travellin’ song, this ‘Babel’ number skips from sinister verses into a swollen finale that celebrates the self-discovery that comes with a nasty breakup.
17 ‘After the Storm’
Atmospheric as they come, this worshipful ballad evokes a solemn, candlelit vigil. Hopefully not in a barn; that would be a fire hazard.
16 ‘The Cave’
If ‘The Cave’ exemplifies the kind of cloying fiddlery that turned critics against Mumford & Sons, it’s also an undeniable anthem and catalyst of the waistcoat-folk revival. A knock-kneed triumph.
15 ‘Lover of the Light’
This unashamed embrace of big-screen pop came with a video starring Idris Elba himself, ensuring that these gentlemen of folk could be mistaken for sparkle-eyed pretenders no more.
Stomping straight into your heart, the title track of M&S’s second record jangles, pounds and crashes into a stirring climax, sounding like a fedora-clad orchestra plummeting from the clouds.
13 ‘Little Lion Man’
M&S cram so many tantalising build-ups into ‘Little Lion Man’ it’s a wonder there’s room for a song at all. Luckily, as any festival-going fule knows, once those familiar banjos stir, they don’t look back.
12 ‘Whispers in the Dark’
This feisty ‘Babel’ single jigs a path through heartbreak all the way into euphoria, bursting its lungs with a rapturous rallying cry to the lovelorn and glum: “Let’s live while we are young”.
11 ‘Awake My Soul’
‘Awake My Soul’ is all hushed tones and gentle swells – perfect for those days when you’re sharing a mutual hatred with the world and everything it contains.
10 ‘I Will Wait’
If you’ve been within 15 miles of a major UK festival recently, you’ve probably heard the deafening sound of 20,000 Mumford-ites hopped up on cider bellowing this into their mates’ faces. It’s not the band’s subtlest moment, but then, when was the last time a subtle moment made you hug sticky, unshowered strangers in a field?
9 ‘Thistles and Weeds’
An overlooked anthem from ‘Sigh no More’, ‘Thistles and Weeds’ dangles its resolution from minor-key purgatory just out of reach, right up until a crescendo so thunderous it leaves a dent in your ear canals.
8 ‘Sigh No More’
Partly written as a tribute to Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, this M&S staple builds to a pretty finale that conjures an army of strings and horns to fend off romantic cynicism: “Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you/ It will set you free.”
7 ‘Winter Winds’
Perhaps the finest example of Mumford & Sons being Mumford & Sons, ‘Winter Winds’ opens its lungs and blows a gale of softly triumphant horns that celebrate the inevitability of renewal. A charmer.
6 ‘The Wolf’
In the eyes of folk purists, the songs we’ve heard from ‘Wilder Mind’ are a welcome sign that M&S have led their one trick pony from the barnyard out to the firing squad. This dusky, pulsing track drops any pretence at old-style Americana and shoots instead for a lick of the Kings of Leon fire.
5 ‘Broken Crown’
An anthem for sin-plagued folkies everywhere, this is a darker cut from ‘Babel’, but one that swells up into a finale of Biblical proportions.
4 ‘Below my Feet’
Manic fingerpicking, creepy reverb and a distant wash of distortion elevate this bleak hymn from the tail-end of ‘Babel’ above its ham-fisted neighbours.
Our first taste of ‘Wilder Mind’, ‘Believe’ is an ambient gem, moping along through starry guitars and twinkling pulses like a downtrodden hitch-hiker on the highway. Forget the folk frippery: once that squealing solo comes in, M&S sound like a band excited to sound new again.
2 ‘Dust Bowl Dance’
This tale of a farmer at rock-bottom, whose days are as barren as his fields, strikes a disarming chord, with piano lines that tumble softly into earnest banjo riffs and bluesy slide guitar.
1 ‘White Blank Page’
Deceptively dainty, ’White Blank Page’ is a technically complex delight, darting down melodic trapdoors and swaying in and out of mighty crescendos like a sailboat in a storm.