Mumford & Sons shine in experimental album
After rising to worldwide prominence following their first two albums, British rock band Mumford & Sons shed their banjo-led hoedowns to plug in for their third album, 2015’s Wilder Mind. Unfortunately for the quartet, this step forward in their music became viewed by fans and critics alike as a step back when they ditched what made them so unique and polarising: their folk roots.
Three and a half years later, Mumford & Sons released their fourth full length record, Delta, Nov. 16. Delta finds common ground between the 2013 Grammy Award for Album of the Year recipient Babel, and the mildly successful Wilder Mind. However, Delta explodes into new territories with the help of major record producer Paul Epworth and a sense of freedom in the studio because of their hiatus from the banjo.
The band’s fourth album is not as upbeat as listeners are used to. Much of Delta is concerned with what they refer to as “the four Ds: death, divorce, drugs and depression.” In the three plus years since their last release, their touring schedule quieted down a bit and allowed each member more space, allowing them to return home and be with friends and family.
Away from the road, they became more aware of serious issues occuring at home, with their familes and friends. In recent years, bassist Ted Dwane underwent brain surgery, lead guitar and banjo player Winston Marshall got married and Marcus Mumford became a father of two.
“Life happened to us,” Marcus Mumford said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “We’ve all been much closer to birth and death, which both feel wild to me, and most of the songs have been written about things like that. But it has to feel like an honest emotion. We’re going to sing these songs for the rest of our lives as a band and, if it doesn’t feel real, then there’s no point. Delta draws on the shared experience of being on and off the road and is a moving collection of songs perhaps more intimate and expansive, both lyrically and musically, than ever before.”
I love this album because Mumford & Sons simply does not care what people think about their music, rather, they make their music for where they are. This down-to-earth mentality combined with their ability to create great music has me excited to see what they will do in the future. — Alexander Rurik
Delta brings back the acoustic instruments that dominated their first two albums, including Marshall’s banjo. However, Epworth put them through production effects to the point they are almost unrecognizable. Delta has the band incorporating elements of electronica, folk, jazz and other sonic territory rarely visited by the Englishmen, as well as an interesting triplet beat in several of their songs. The album as a whole strikes me as exceptionally experimental, but also very real to who they are.
After announcing their fourth studio album in early Sept., Mumford released their lead single “Guiding Light” which debuted near the top of the charts, Sept. 20. Their second single, “If I Say”, brought Mumford & Sons into new waters as the band recruited an orchestra and string arrangement which shine beautifully as they build over a rich pad. Pianist Ben Lovett wrote the song “during a dream that I had whilst I was going through a bunch of stuff.“ Halfway between a divorce and a new relationship, the song questions the power of commitment.
The record begins with the upbeat “42”, Mumford’s 42nd released song. Entering their tenth year as a band, “42” is an excellent rock opener with beautiful harmonies. The content of the lyrics set up the rest of the album.
Track number eight, “Rose of Sharon”, is a song of promised love, but the neat part about it is the title. In previous albums, especially Sigh No More, the band wrote several songs written either based off, or using excerpts and parts of different books, most often John Steinbeck novels. Many songs also borrow a considerable amount of content from the Bible as all four band members have religious backgrounds.
“Rose of Sharon” does both, as it is the name of a character in Grapes of Wrath, who was named after a verse in the Bible found in Songs of Solomon 2. As a long time fan, it feels delightful to see that although their music has shifted, who they are as people and songwriters remains more constant. Personally, the song is a nostalgic tribute to their first albums.
“Picture You” and “Darkness Visible” are actually one continued song broken into two. The former uses the help of a programmed beat which is new territory for Mumford. Darkness Visible is something altogether different. Singer-songwriter Gill Landry shows up in the middle of the stormy pianos to recite an excerpt of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Darkness Visible serves as an opportunity to just rock out, something Mumford has not done on an album.
“The Wild” is where everything comes together. It’s a slow-burner that spends almost five minutes building from muted guitars, plinking pianos, and a soft vocals to a full-on orchestra section.
The electronics and atmospherics of Wilder Mind and the rustic foundations of Babel and 2009’s Sigh No More sit so naturally next to one another that causes you to wonder why the band felt pressed to mix up their music so much. If you are looking for more of a classic Mumford heartbreaker with a more familiar folk sound, “Wild Heart” is the way to go.
The wandering piano lines underfoot in “October Skies” invite a jazzy flair as they feature their first ever female vocalist on a recorded track, most likely artist Maggie Rogers. Rogers will be featured as the opening act for Mumford & Sons’ 60 date world tour.
My two personal favorites on the album are “Slip Away” and “Delta”. “Slip Away” features more of the classic build found in their older music. “Delta” may be one of their finest songs to date. It simply begins with Mumford and his guitar in a stunning confessional and builds into a killer rock chorus. In the background, you can make out a sound which sounds like the recording of a child talking. Although there is no clarification for this, I believe it is the sound of one or both of Marcus Mumford’s children.
I love this album because Mumford & Sons simply does not care what people think about their music, rather, they make their music for where they are. This down-to-earth mentality combined with their ability to create great music has me excited to see what they will do in the future. I recommend this album to all fans of alternative folk and those who appreciate deep lyrics.
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