Mumford & Sons branch out on ‘Babel’
Album Review | 3.5 out of 4 stars
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 07:10
English folk rockers Mumford & Sons shot to fame after touring their debut album “Sigh No More” (2009). Coming from the burgeoning folk scene in London, the band soon proved that it was more than apt at delving further into this genre of music. Renowned for their use of banjos, mandolins and other conventional folk instruments, Mumford & Sons emit a rich, fully satisfying sound on each song.
Their new album “Babel” is a progression from Mumford & Sons’ debut in both mood and instrumentation. “Sigh No More” was a glorious cacophony of haunting and evocative songs, with lead singer Marcus Mumford’s voice weaving in and out of the music with meticulous care. “Babel” is less about the buildup; the songs no longer leave you edging forward in your seat waiting for that moment when the instruments all crash into tune together. Instead, that combination is there from the beginning, making the songs satisfying, but somewhat less so, as they are less reliant on careful buildup.
From the first song, it is clear that the sound on this album is massively different. Mumford & Sons were never famous for their upbeat and cheerful lyrics. In fact, Marcus Mumford draws inspiration from mildly depressing novels such as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck and various works of Shakespeare. The band draws on classic texts for gripping and moving lyrics, and it also looks classy while doing so — waistcoats, ties and tweed are a trademark, and pleasing, look for the band.
The first song on the album is the title track, “Babel,” and it sets a triumphant tone for the album. Resonant guitars and Mumford’s joyous vocals establish a completely different atmosphere than any song the band has previously made. “I never lived a year better spent in love/ Cause I know my weakness, know my voice/ So now believe in grace and choice,” Mumford sings before following his delivery up with a whoop of joy.
The next song, “Whispers in the Dark,” is slightly more reminiscent of previous Mumford & Sons work due to its quiet introduction while Mumford sings over a guitar. However, as the song progresses, more and more instruments are added until the banjo is jittering away in the background. “I Will Wait” is a commanding listen, the chorus of which should be listened to on full volume for the complete effect of Mumford’s voice and the backing trumpet.
“Holland Road” and “Ghosts That We Knew” both tone down the upbeat guitar to focus more on the bare bones of Mumford’s voice over a keening piano. Toward the end of the latter song, the band members harmonize while they sing, “Hold me still bury my heart on the cold/And hold me still bury my heart next to yours,” proving that it isn’t just lead singer and band title inspiration Marcus Mumford who has vocal talent.
The next few songs, while enjoyable, do not stick out as much as the beginning and end of the album. “Hopeless Wanderer” is where the album picks up again: a song with beautiful harmonies and an intense conglomeration of guitar and banjo, although it has an unfortunate pronunciation of “fast” during the chorus. “Broken Crown” harkens back to the sound of “Sigh No More,” starting with a plaintive guitar and Mumford’s imposing vocals clearly taking ownership of the song as he sings “So hold my hand/Consign me not to darkness.”
For an album that was highly anticipated worldwide, the overall sound might be slightly disappointing for those who were expecting a carbon copy of “Sigh No More.” Although the album lags slightly in the middle, most of the album’s twelve songs are single−worthy and stick with you after listening.
This sort of music that relies so heavily on various instruments sounds its best at as loud a volume as your speakers can realistically manage, so if Mumford & Sons have never struck a chord with you, just try turning it up.
This band has dug out a niche for itself in the music industry and taken ownership of popularizing this style of music. So far, Mumford & Sons have been immensely successful.