Oh deary dear. It seems Mumford & Sons have gone and upset a lot of people with their Mercury nomination. Though some saw the album as a whimsical folksy departure from the guitar-strewn indie that has dominated a large part of the awards of the last decade, some music purists (i.e. anyone with taste beyond pop laced with folk airs) saw Sigh No More as the equivalent of having a metal stake slowly worked into your temple – a situation not helped by the perpetual airtime ‘Little Lion Man’ still seems to get on 6Music. Unfortunately, it is this kind of divide that has split general opinion about the new era of folk.
Still, this new wave of typically charming, sometimes beautiful music continues to grow largely thanks to the likes of Ms Marling and her boyfriends (past and present). Amongst the array of new acoustic-y artists is 27-year-old Jonah Maddox who arrives onto the scene with his debut solo album since splitting with indie outfit Les Oeufs – yet another example that the musical landscape is shifting (for the Mercury Prize at least).
Together We Are Taller sees Maddox take a distinctly routine approach to making a folk album with lashings of harmonica, violin and banjo combined with delicate guitar melodies to give everything a rose tint of acoustic warmth. Pleasant and satisfying it may be, but tedium sets in when entire tracks consist only of his voice and that over-used sound of plinked-out notes. For example, in ‘Fold’, two thirds of the track can lull a listener into sleep with Jonah’s noticeably restrained vocals and repetitive guitar. It’s only after two and a half minutes that there is a glimpse of some definite talent as his vocals and chords are allowed to build to something forceful, even if it only lasts for about 30-odd seconds.
Going through the album it’s a theme that repeats itself over and over. More often than not, the slower, more stripped down tracks are reminiscent of songs written by the hundred of teenage boys who believe that acoustic guitar plus sappy lyrics equals emotional and musical depth. Luckily though, the album never quite completely descends into this as each of these tracks is partly redeemed by a burst of energy towards the end.
There are real tracks of beauty to be found in Together We Are Taller. The only true bit of folk comes in the form of ‘Happy Places’ where Maddox demonstrates his ability to enchant with voice and instrument in perfect harmony. Meanwhile, ‘Pandas Fighting’ is a track that slowly grows under your skin with its quietly building rhythm. The track climaxes with the violin playing on heartstrings as Maddox sings “I don’t have far to fall, but I fall hard/And I believe its love every time”. It’s perhaps the most honest and relatable lyrics on the album and consequently makes the track the highlight of the album.
Maddox shows in Together We Are Taller that he’s without a doubt a good musician with glimmers of brilliance. The only problem to resolve is the lapses into teenage songwriting that weigh down the record. Though it will be no pop-folk behemoth, Jonah Maddox can be proud of a well constructed somewhat-folkish album that regains some of the credibility that has been lost in the genre after Sigh No More (#anyonebutmumford please).