Matthew and the Atlas, Borderline, London

Make way for the sons of Mumford
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The Independent Culture

Is the Mumford moment over? It's tempting to suggest that south-west London's "new folk" movement – the Johnny Flynns, the Laura Marlings, the Noahs and the Whales – has peaked in popularity now that Mumford & Sons are confirmed residents of David Cameron's record collection.

Recently described by post-punk survivor Mark E Smith as sounding "like a load of retarded Irish folk singers", Marcus Mumford and co currently enjoy the kind of mainstream fame that robs them of any of the insurgent cool to which they could once have laid claim.

So, assuming the Mumfords are the next Coldplay or Keane, are new bands with a similar sound doomed to be derided by the music press or, worse, ignored by listeners? In the case of Matthew and the Atlas, I hope not. Comparisons are inevitable: Matt Hegarty and his band supported Mumford & Sons on tour earlier this year. Much of the crowd at the Borderline was made up of Mumford fans turned on to Matthew and the Atlas by those warm-up slots, or by the band's inclusion on the recent Communion LP, compiled by Mumford member Ben Lovett.

But while their instrumentation is pure new folk – acoustic guitars, accordion, banjo, winsome female backing vocal – the band's songbook sounds oak-barrel aged. Hegarty's earthy odes to heartbreak and deliverance have a classic quality. His gravelly woodsman's voice sounds not unlike Ray LaMontagne's; his melodies resemble those of Bon Iver, Damien Rice or David Gray. The pastoral bent of his lyrics might appear to be faux-folkiness, given that he hails from unromantic Aldershot. But the singer's day-job is landscape gardening, meaning he's genuinely more familiar with the dead leaves and wilted roses of folk idiom than your average townie.

The Borderline show marked the launch of the band's second four-track EP. Like its predecessor, "To the North", the record contains a pair of particular gems – the rollicking "I Followed Fires" and the magnificent, slow-building title track, "Kingdom of Your Own".

There are limits to the band's burgeoning repertoire, audible in the sort of lengthy headline slot to which they've yet to become accustomed. Hegarty tends to rely on two song templates: the "slow" one, tender and keening ("Within the Rose", "The Waves"); and the "fast" one ("I Will Remain", "I Followed Fires"), which would have any ceilidh crowd slapping their thighs with gay abandon. There are probably a few too many harmonised "oohs" and "aahs" where, in future, there might be lyrics or, for the sake of argument, a mandolin solo. The band might benefit, too, from a bit of coaching on their intra-song banter.

But these are the inevitable pitfalls of being a green act. In one unfamiliar new number, which closed with some meaty tom-tom thumping, were hints of a third way for Hegarty's songwriting, while the appreciative crowd were undaunted by the frontman's apparent shyness. Matthew and the Atlas were the first act to be signed to Ben Lovett's new Communion label, responsible for the release of "Kingdom of Your Own". In more ways than one, then, they have Mumford & Sons to thank for their success so far. Hopefully, however, Hegarty and his band can escape from their predecessors' shadow, to be appreciated on their own considerable merits.

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