Sunday, May 17, 2015

MUMFORD & SONS- 'WILDER MIND' (ALBUM REVIEW)

By: Connor Glowacki

Photo courtesy of Twitter
     British rock band Mumford & Sons has risen to extraordinary heights since the release of their debut album 'Sigh No More' in 2009. The musical quartet, comprising of lead singer Marcus Mumford, guitarist Winston Marshall, keyboardist Ben Lovett, and bassist Ted Dwane, incorporated traditional folk instruments into their music.
     After introducing the banjo, mandolin and resonator guitar in 'Sigh No More', the band's sound immediately resonated well in the mainstream music community and after hit singles 'Little Lion Man', 'Winter Winds' and 'The Cave', 'Sign No More' went on to sell over three million copies in the United States.
      The band's followup, 2012's 'Babel', continued Mumford & Sons' rise to stardom as it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, featured a HUGE hit single in 'I Will Wait', sold over 2.7 million copies in the United States and even won a Grammy Award in 2013 for 'Album of the Year'.
     These two albums featured the acoustic instrumentation that created a nu-folk revival in the mainstream in the early 2010s. Similar folk acts, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Avett Brothers, and Phillip Phillips all found success after Mumford & Sons had paved the way for folk acts to gain national recognition.
     However, despite all of the band's success, they have been criticized by several music critics for their  songs sounding too similar to one another. They have been also criticized for using the same lyrical themes in their songs, and that compared to other folk acts, their music is very simplistic, to a fault.
Cover art for 'Wilder Mind'
Photo courtesy of Consequence
of Sound
     So after two albums based around folk music, Mumford & Sons declared in an interview with Rolling Stone back in March that the band was ditching the banjo and plugging in the electric guitar for their third album, 'Wilder Mind'.
     How does their foray into alternative and indie rock fare with 'Wilder Mind'? Here is a track by track breakdown of the new album from Mumford & Sons.


1.) 'Tompkins Square Park'

     Tompkins square park is an actual 10.5 acre public park in Manhattan of New York City. Since the band decided to record in the Big Apple, it's easy to understand how they could find new places as inspirations for this album.
Actual Tompkins Square Park
Photo courtesy of nyc.grid.com
     Instrumentally, there is a clear, melodic guitar opening with a repeated drumming pattern. Mumford & Sons showcase their trademark vocal harmonies during the chorus and the song maintains a steady tempo throughout. Marshall's guitar solo is covered in reverb and distortion and even though it's technically simple, it fits naturally with the rest of the instrumentation.
     Lyrically, Mumford talks about wishing to meet his lover for one last time to try and reignite the feeling that they once had for one another.
     "Oh babe, I've never been so lost. I wanna hear you lie. One last time, just one last time." But he knows that he'll inevitably be out of her life by the end of the night. "And oh babe, can you tell what's on my tongue? Can you guess that I'll be gone? With the twilight."
     Even if his doubts are preventing him from being able to commit with this woman, Mumford kind of comes across as a jerk for blatantly ditching the woman that he apparently 'loves' and saying to her face that he's just going to take the easy way out and leave.
     There are no acoustic guitars or banjos anywhere on this track, but I really like the synthesizers on the outro that perfectly segue-ways into the second track.
     Overall, it's a pretty good album opener. The instrumentation is different and unique for the band, but the lyrics resemble the type of content that's been on their last two albums.

2.) 'Believe'

     'Believe' was the first single released from 'Wilder Mind' back in March and it has peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's not yet the smash hit that 'I Will Wait', 'Little Lion Man' or 'The Cave' became, but there's still time for the song to pick up steam commercially.
'Believe' has been gaining
comparisons to U2 and Coldplay.
Photo courtesy of USA Today.
     'Believe' is very atmospheric and muscially sounds alot like fellow English band Coldplay. It starts off fairly slow, but kicks up by the final third of the track once the electric guitar and drums kick in.
     Mumford does an excellent job at selling the emotinoal impact of the lyrics that speak once again to the uncertainity of a relationship. With lyrics in the chrous like, "I don't even know if I believe. Everything you're trying to say to me", it will very well in a stadium setting.
     Don't get me wrong, this is a good song. But, I would've LOVED this song if there were acoustic guitars in the song's first half that increased the tempo a little more and prevented it from dragging until the electric guitars came in.
     'Believe' stumbles at points, but just like 'Tompkins Square Park', it's another good song that starts off 'Wilder Mind' on a strong note.

3.) 'The Wolf'

     The song starts off much more aggressively than the first two tracks with the combination of electric guitars, electric bass and pounding drums that give a visceral edge to Mumfod & Sons' new sound. The riffs and melody lines are extremely catchy and have been stuck in my head sver since the song was released.
     Marshall, Dwane and Lovett rip into their instruments throughout the song and feel musically uncaged by their newfound 'electric freedom'. Mumford belts out the vocals during the choruses and the final outro of 'The Wolf'.
     The title of ths song plays off the children's story character of the wolf very well by alluding the wolf as a danger to a relationship. There's a possibility that the woman will fall for the wolf, OR that she will find someone better. And just like the previous two songs, you can hear the band's new musical influences. The influences that are easy to hear on 'The Wolf' are Kings of Leon and Bruce Springsteen.
     It's a fun, energetic song that will defintely be a HIT at concerts.

4.) 'Wilder Mind'

     After three strong songs to kick off 'Wilder Mind', we finally have our first disappointment and it's in the title track. Instrumentally, it's pretty minimalistic. Yes, it sounds like an electronic drum set, but there are also synthesizers and a muted piano melody line courtesy of Lovett.
     Similar to the other tracks, Mumford is utilizing his lower vocal register more frequently than he ever did on 'Sigh No More' and 'Babel'. It's nice seeing him show restraint, but the song doesn't go anywhere sonically. The musicality doesn't impress and the song is lyrically once again about a deteriorating relationship.
     The title track is a bit of a let down after the positive showing from the first three songs.

5.) 'Just Smoke'

     Even with the electric guitars, bass and pianos, these instruments aren't adding anything to the lyrics and basic structure of the song 'Just Smoke'. The song lyrically talks about the feelings between two lovers who are on the verge of breaking up. Part of the song discusses the desire to just have their feelings of love taken away, rather than not being able to handle the feelings with their lover. "Tell my thoughts to resign and lift you from your mind. I'm not ready, I'm not strong enough to cradle the weight of your love."
     The lyrical template of 'Wilder Mind' so far appears to be focusing on maintaining a relationship despite various fears and doubts. The lack of themes in these songs can get tiresome, but this has ultimately been the primary subject matter that Mumford & Sons have discussed in their previous albums.
     Meanwhile, Mumford & Sons is claiming to be a full-fledged rock band, but the overall aesthetic of their music still feels folky to me due to the reverb soaked instrumentation and the imagery of the lyrics.
     So far, outside of 'The Wolf', the electric instruments are actually bringing less energy throughout 'Wilder Mind'.

6.) 'Monster'

     And just like that comes another slow, downtempo affair. However, the lyrics place a different story on 'Monster' than on the other songs off of the album. It tells about the fighting that is occurring in a relationship and how the woman appears to be cheating on Mumford and using her beauty effectively to get what she wants and prevent him from leaving her. "I saw you late, last night, come to harm. I saw you dance in the devil's arms."
     Mumford later gives the woman a declaration that he will not be treated as inferior. But the negative light then shines brightly on him as he attempts to convince his lover that being with him is more important than her chasing her own individual dreams. "So f--- your dreams and don't you pick at our seams. I'll turn into a monster for you, if you pay me enough, None of this counts, a few dreams, plowed up."
     So is Mumford the actual monster? Or are he and his lover both monster-like? Mumford doesn't even seem to show remorse for the mistakes he's made in the relationship! Not even the instrumentation can save the disappointing lyrical storytelling that make up 'Monster'.

7.) 'Snake Eyes'

     After three poor songs in a row, 'Snake Eyes' was a much needed energy jolt for 'Wilder Mind'. It opens with the mix of a violin and an electric guitar repeating the opening riff. The piano and drums begin to slowly build during the first chorus and it eventually builds up to a faster and louder piece of music.
     The electric guitar finally erupts in the second verse and combined with the bass lines and drumming, we have a much needed increase in tempo. Mumford erupts vocally in the third chorus and the outro showcases throbbing cymbals and pounding drums that are mixed with a pounding power chord progression on multiple electric guitars.
     It's like Mumford & Sons is actually giving themselves a chance to rock out and jam with one another at full volume. Outside of 'The Wolf', 'Snake Eyes' has been the only song where Mumford & Sons have really showcased themselves in this new arena rock mold.

8.) 'Broad-Shouldered Beasts'

     'Broad-Shouldered Beasts' alternates between different levels of dynamic sounds fairly well and it's easy to tell that the band shines brightest once they create a large wall of sound by the end of the song with all of their instrumentation.
     There are piano chords, ringing cymbals and an extremely soft guitar section playing in the background. However, in the softer moments when Mumford is trying to display a more intimate setting, it feels as if he is about to fall asleep due to the mumbling nature of the softer vocals. There is an apparent lack of energy and urgency that is desperately needed to pull off those pre-climatic moments.
     Lyrically, the song talks about Mumford trying to take his lover out for a night in the city, in an attempt to help her loosen up, but she ends up falling back into her world of fear and cautiousness. Mumford declares in the chorus that he will be there to support her and that he will be her 'broad shouldered beast' when she needs him to be.
     The song is decent, but it doesn't have any kind of lasting impact to make this a standout track.

9.) 'Cold Arms'

     Mumford & Sons are really doing their best to channel other indie, alternative bands, such as The National, Coldplay and Snow Patrol throughout 'Wilder Mind' and that continues to be evident on the song 'Cold Arms'. It's the shortest song on the album at two minutes and 49 seconds and focuses on a strumming electric guitar. Mumford does what he can to enhance the song vocally, but it doesn't showcase much of a melody to let him passionately wail out any of the lyrics.
     It lyrically talks about how there may have been a fight between the two lovers and how the fight was necessary, in order to allow to allow both individuals to freely speak their minds. "And I know what's on your mind. God knows I put it there. But if I took it back, we'd be nowhere. You'd be nowhere again."
     Yet the truth ended up bringing more trouble to the relationship and as Mumford sings, "I guess the truth works two ways, maybe the truth's not what we need", there is a realization that perhaps a false sense of happiness is still the better alternative.
     I actually enjoy the lyrics on 'Cold Arms', but unfortunately the instrumentation doesn't back up the urgency in the lyrics.

10.) 'Ditmas'

     So 'Ditmas' is the complete opposite of 'Cold Arms' because the instrumentation allows the band to play to their strengths, but the lyrics completely fall flat. The loud electric guitars and natural drumset provide a necessary beat and sense of tempo.
     I really like how all of the instruments blend together so well during the chorus and the drums and cymbals, in particular, push the song to a faster and more energetic place.
     Lyrically, 'Ditmas' is another song about Mumford trying to figure out the relationship with his lover and they ultimately decides that the best way forward is for him to leave. BUT now Mumford and the woman are having second thoughts. "And so I cry, as I hold you for the last time in this life. This life I tried so hard to give to you. What would you have me do?"
     The lyrics and storytelling in 'Wilder Mind' are resembling a complete soap opera. There is no sense of passion, excitement or anything to make these lyrics more interesting. Quite possibly the worst song on the album.

11.) 'Only Love'

     The softer moments in 'Only Love' actually work because of the rich vocal harmonies during the chorus. They remind me of the Mumford & Sons that I really enjoyed as a traditional folk rock outfit.
     Mumford is angry at himself for messing up in the relationship and making his lover feel like a fool. "And I rage and rage. But perhaps I will come of age. And be ready for you."
     Finally, Mumford takes some accountability for ruining the relationship, instead of consistently placing blame on the woman for being too 'cautious'.
     The hook is what makes this song and the combined voices on the final chorus provide a great wave of a crescendo. It makes 'Only Love' a truly underrated song that I think could be a sleeper hit among Mumford & Sons fans.

12.) 'Hot Gates'

     The final track off of 'Wilder Mind' is supposed to allude to the entrance of the underworld and Hades. The title refers to a battle against life and death.
     The lyrics make it sound like Mumford is singing to a lover or a friend who is experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. "But even in the dark I saw you were the only one alone. At these hot gates, you spit your vitriol though you swore you wouldn't do this anymore."
     It's great to hear a song about a different theme than just of the failed romantic relationship. The song and album ends on a triumphant note with tight instrumentation mixed into the final verse. "Let my blood only run out when my world decides. There is no way out of your only life. So run on, so run!"
     'Hot Gates' is a great way to close out 'Wilder Mind' and is easily one of the better tracks off of the album.


FINAL VERDICT

Photo courtesy of Billboard
     I'll always give an artist credit for experimentation. Certain acts that I have covered this year, including Imagine Dragons, Kendrick Lamar and Zac Brown Band all experimented on their albums to varying degrees of success.
     Mumford & Sons' 'Wilder Mind' showcased a new electric sound for the band that is aimed to present themselves now as an alternative arena rock act.
     There are some songs, like 'The Wolf', 'Snake Eyes' and 'Hot Gates', where the new instrumentation bring forth a new sense of life and energy into the band. But then there are songs like 'Believe' and 'Just Smoke' where the new electric sound could have frankly been better executed.
     The problem that I'm having with 'Wilder Mind' is that when you pair some of these electric sounds with the earnest lyrics and storytelling, it just doesn't match up evenly together. On their first two albums, the band had countless songs full of lyrics about relationships and love, but when they were paired with a high energy acoustic guitar or a concentrated banjo pattern, it created triumphant and joyous moments for the listener. For most of the songs on this album, the low-key electric sounds don't bring any additional life to the lyrics.
Photo courtesy of Consequence of Sound
     I am in no way saying that Mumford & Sons needs to transition back into folk rock, even though that is the genre I prefer them in. They can make future songs and albums more dynamic by adding more effects and creating bigger and louder moments using their electric instruments.
     But I will say that with their previous albums, even though the instrumentation appeared formulaic and the lyrical themes could have been more diverse, it was easy to identify what Mumford & Sons was all about and who they were in terms of their sound.
     With this indie rock sound on 'Wilder Mind', the band is sounding similar to groups like The National, Coldplay, Kings Of Leon, and U2.
     But now I'm starting to wonder. Who are they really as a band?
   


RATING: 3 out of 5

BEST SONGS:

1.) 'Snake Eyes'              2.) 'The Wolf'              3.) 'Hot Gates


What did YOU think of the new Mumford & Sons album, 'Wilder Mind'?

Did you like it? Hate it? Agree or disagree with this review?


Leave a comment below or send me a comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.
   

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