Mumford and DONE

Marcus Mumford is my ideal mate. Accent? Check. Vaguely-but-not-too-hipster attire? Check. Sturdy bod, comparable to lumberjack, or sorta fat Khal Drogo? Check. Capital-F Feelings that would make me roll my eyes IRL? Fucking check. Could do without the seventh grade-style dusting of a mustache and the Pentecostal parents, but hey, love is about knowing when to compromise.

tumblr_n3sghiQFhe1spsl8do7_500Be still, my heart.

I’m into the music, too. Mumford and Sons’ first two albums ranked among my top 100 played songs on iTunes for years. But the singles released while gearing up for their third album are…bland at best. While watching their recent performance on SNL, I kept thinking: “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband’s band? Marcus, if you are being held against your will, blink quickly three times.” If they had taken off Mission: Impossible-style masks to reveal that they were actually Coldplay, I wouldn’t have been that surprised.

The band previously released two folk-revivalist albums, the second being an extension of the first—same sound, bigger budget. The drive to experiment and evolve is a natural artistic instict, so it makes sense that Mumford and Sons would push their sound on their third outing. But their Americana twang is completely absent from the new tracks. All the songs sound the same. That was a critique lobbied against their folksier stuff, too, but here, I admit my bias. I could listen to a thousand songs of the old, sweeping Mumford and Sons, no matter how indistinguishable from each other those songs might be. I have a visceral response to the sound—it makes me both buoyant and teary at once. The new singles, on the other hand, sound like any old rock band. They’re energetic, but even Mumford’s growling vocals can’t to save them from being completely forgettable.

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Generally, I’m not anti-change. Like any art form, amazing work often comes when artists take risks. The Beatles are the world’s most obvious example of a band that pushed themselves and grew and evolved their sound record after record blah blah blah whatever. Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album introduced us to Bey as complicated artiste. One of my favorite albums of 2014 was Taylor Swift’s 1989, which was a clear and smart break from her country roots. In an NPR interview she said that she spent hours online every day while writing the album, trying to figure out what her fans wanted from her. I’m not sure how she waded through comments like “u r a dum slut” (or so I imagine), to pull out the stellar album she did. But, cheers, girl.

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So, why is Mumford and Sons’ new sound just not working for me? Yes, it’s partially that they’ve departed from their established identity, at least for now. (And some advice, Marcus, my heart? Just a touch of banjo in the chorus of “The Wolf” could bridge the gap between the band we know and the new one you’re trying on.) Like so many artists before them, they’re attempting to be something different, and thus something greater, than they were before. But in the end, the music isn’t that good. It’s new for them, but that novelty isn’t enough. We already have a Chris Martin—no need for a knock-off. It leaves me wondering if, perhaps, they weren’t very good all along. That’s what’s breaking my heart most of all.

—Alison

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Clear as Day

As a gal with thirteen years of Catholic education under my belt, I strongly believe that the best application of modern religion is that which brings the most good into the world while interfering least in others’ choices. If HBO’s most recent documentary Going Clear is to be believed, Scientology does precisely the opposite.

Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s investigative book of the same name, features interviews with former members of the Church, some of whom left as recently as 2013. The previous practitioners had strong reasons for their entrée into the church. Early levels of Scientology employ techniques similar to psychology, and this pseudo-therapy provided immense relief and support in their time of need. Makes complete sense. But, as individuals progress toward Clear status (Scientology’s equivalent of being “saved”), the Church starts to use members’ confessions as blackmail and introduces a creation myth involving Xenu and disembodied alien spirits, so…

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The survivors detail their gradual disillusionment in the face of negativity, paranoia, and abuse. There are terrible stories from the days of founder L. Ron Hubbard—but the real horrors start with the reign of current Chairman, David Miscavige. The man allegedly beat up on lower and upper level officers of the church—those he supposedly most trusted. He reportedly held members captive in a prison camp of his own design, and then forced them into a twisted game of musical chairs. The prisoners were so far into brainwash territory they willingly played so they could be allowed to stay locked up, rather than leave the Church.

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Those hoping for a deeper dive into Scientology’s celebrities may be disappointed, though both John Travolta and Tom Cruise’s involvement are addressed. Miscavige and Cruise come off as hilariously obsessed with each other.

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Yeah, we’re mugging, but we wish it was cool for us to hold hands.

Producing this film is a risk for HBO—just as publishing the book was a risk for Lawrence Wright.  Scientology has been known to personally attack critics of the institution. Marty Rathbun, a former senior executive of the church, and his now-wife were harassed for years by camera-wielding Scientologists. When the IRS tried to collect a billion dollar back tax from the church, members sued individual employees of the government agency. The IRS was so overwhelmed by the suits, they forgave the debt, and declared Scientology a religion. THEY BULLIED THE FUCKING IRS FOR TAX-EXAMPT STATUS. Honestly, I’m sort of nervous this post will put on some sort of watch list, but we’d probably need more readers for that.

Biggest takeaway from the film? SCIENTOLOGY IS A CRAZY CULT, AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE YOU SHOULD PROBABLY REMOVE FROM YOUR CIRCLE OF ACQUAINTANCES. It’s too bad we’ll never be friends, Tom Cruise. I’d previously read Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman, so I was somewhat familiar a lot of the behind the scenes insanity already. The author attempts an objective view of the church, but it still comes off looking pretty bad for them. Highly recommend, if you’re looking for further reading.

Several celebrities, including national heroes Sarah Silverman and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, have come out in (minor) defense of Scientology, contending it’s no crazier than other religions.

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Catholicism asserts that we drink JESUS’ LITERAL BLOOD at Mass. So, fair enough. And while the more dramatic items of the doctrine never rang true for me in my religious education, I still spent most of my youth and teens buying into a belief system that I can no longer reconcile. I can throw the word “crazy” around all I want in reference to Scientology, but under only slightly different circumstances, I could have been the crazy one.

You can check out Going Clear on HBO or HBOGo.

—Alison