The debut solo effort from the frontman and namesake of Grammy Award-winning folk-rockers Mumford & Sons, (self-titled) sees Marcus Mumford eschewing the sonic finery of his flagship band for a (mostly) paired-down set of deeply introspective songs. The overarching theme is confronting one's past, whether it be through grievance, acceptance, or atonement. Mumford addresses all three responses in the powerful and discomforting opener "Cannibal," revealing an incident of childhood sexual abuse with a rawness that lingers long after the hopeful strains of the gospel-tinged album closer, "How," fade. Thankfully, the jubilant follow-up "Grace" offers some respite, with Mumford declaring, "Well, how should we proceed?/Without things getting too heavy/Even though I'd never tell you everything/I could've sworn I'd dropped that bomb on you already" over a wall of double-tracked acoustics and a melody torn from the pages of the Jeff Lynne/Tom Petty songbook. The remainder of (self-titled) sees Mumford working through the twin traumas of sexual and substance abuse with signature earnestness and empathy, and with a little help from his friends Phoebe Bridgers ("Stonecatcher"), Clairo ("Dangerous Game"), and Brandi Carlile ("How"). His inclination to bring every piece of music -- no matter how emotionally fraught -- to a fist-pumping crescendo has been tempered a bit, but it's still his ace, and he plays it when cornered. Anchored by Blake Mills' tasteful and creative production, the ten-song set feels like a small step forward for Mumford. It's both rooted in the past and primed for the future, like an exorcism gone right.
by James Christopher Monger