It’s been two years since Mumford and Sons release of their debut album Sigh No More and now they’re back with a clear direction, a higher quality in song writing, and solid second outing.
The album starts off strong with track one “Babel”, a song with hints from its predecessor, full band in full use, banjo leading into the song, and Marcus Mumford’s vocals and present and gravely as ever, using his opening notes to reign us back in.
The first few songs hint the most at their typical sounds. While their first single off the record “I Will Wait” bringing the same raucous energy that songs such as “Little Lion Man” had, it’s the farther a listener goes into the album that the realization of how they’ve tweaked their sound becomes apparent. It’s no big change, it’s barely noticeable, but rather than throwing songs into a track listing there seems to be a coherent lay of the songs. There’s an order to them. In “Ghost We Knew” the opening plucking of the guitar and Marcus Mumford’s vulnerable crooning promises a gorgeous melody.
A couple songs in and then there’s “Below My Feet” a song where “And now I sleep. Sleep the hours that I can’t weep. When all I knew was steeped in blackened holes. I was lost” is sung with sincerity and regret. It’s remorseful song that begins in a lullaby style. Mumford barely whispers out the lyrics, and like some of their greatest songs, intelligently showcase their ability to build anticipation throughout their songs. By the second verse, gone is meekness, now there is guitar buzzing, the base drum is pounding, and the piano is more than a hint. Their melodies tell a story.
A low point in the album is their reliance of the safe route. They play up what worked in their debut album, which, while making sense, is less gratifying than hearing more songs such as “For Those Below”, a bonus track on the album, and “Broken Crown”. Maybe with their next set of songs they’ll take more risks.
One of the particularly great things about Mumford and Sons is their impressively consistent ability to create an atmospheric mood throughout their songs. For instance, Babel is so clearly a song for autumn; an album for a long drive through Maine, for a walk through the woods, for the nights that the chill is beginning to seep through the cracks of your windows. This is a romantic album, not so much in the lyrical content, but in the way that the music is composed, with sweeping instrumental interludes and slow build ups that give way to an explosion of sound.
I was lucky enough to be privy to songs from this album back in late July. I sat on a hill on a waterfront in Portland Maine, and watched from a place that made the band seem as small as my thumb. Even from the distance the new songs resonated. Oftentimes when at a concert, there’s almost a crowd wide groan when an unrecognizable song is played. But here, there was an overwhelming silence as the thousands of fans listened in to some beautifully put together songs. Their first album was great, it got the job done, it popularized folk music and created a great gateway to similar, yet less marketable bands, to be heard, it introduced a very good band. However, like most first albums, there were some obvious clunkers, the songs that often get skipped. On Babel they’ve solidified what they do well and the direction they should continue to take. This album is worth a listen. It’s worth a second listen. The songs “Whispers In the Dark”, “Holland Road”, “Hopeless Wanderer” and “Broken Crown”, worth multiple. If you’re an established Mumford fan, you’ll love the album. If you’re new to them and their sound, this is a great introduction.