The captivating depth of self-titled is in large part due to the group of female musicians Mumford enlisted as featured vocalists and/or co-writers, including Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Clairo, Monica Martin, and Julia Michaels. This is not only a testament to his powerful chemistry with Mills. To that end, Mumford claims that his self-titled album is the result of the most collaboration.
“Grace,” a magnificently anthemic song written by Mumford shortly after performing “Cannibal” for his mother and exposing the story of his abuse for the first time, soars with purpose after “Cannibal,” the album’s opening track.
The album then explores a variety of topics, including the brutal clarity of hitting rock bottom (on “Prior Warning,” co-written with Mills and Julia Michaels and featuring drum programming by longtime Kendrick Lamar collaborator Sounwave), the complexities of self-medication (on the sprawling and oddly euphoric “Better Off High,”), and the terrifying triumph of finally facing your demons (on “Dangerous Game,” graced with Clairo’s gossamer The song “Better Angels” was also co-written by Mills, Tobias Jesso Jr.,
The song “Stonecatcher,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, is one of the album’s most revelatory moments. It offers a complex meditation on mercy and forgiveness that is heavily influenced by the writings of Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson on cultural trauma.
In a fortunate turn of events, Mumford got in touch with Stevenson and invited the renowned social activist/part-time pianist to play piano on “Stonecatcher,” giving the song’s mesmerizing outro a certain delicate majesty.
Mumford selected a stark and heartfelt song co-written with Brandi Carlile the morning following the two friends’ emotional drive up the Pacific Coast Highway as the album’s closing track. But I’ll forgive you now/Release you from all of the responsibility I know how/And I’ll forgive you now/As if speaking the words will let me know/How,” sings the song “How,” which serves as the album’s bookend to “Cannibal.”
The ultimate product is an open-ended conclusion to an eternally exploring body of music that is both steadfast and stunningly sympathetic. There is plenty of room for the listener to add their own tale and continue Mumford’s narrative of hard-won fortitude and transformational optimism.