We’ve all read about it somewhere: Mumford & Sons are shedding their banjo and kick-drum reputation for an electric sound with their latest outing Wilder Mind. In recent weeks, we’ve undoubtedly witnessed two sides emerge with irreconcilable perspectives. Perhaps you fit right in with the folk-loving (and now Mumford-condemning) crowd, or the staunch opposition proclaiming their renewed love for the band, or even somewhere in the middle. Whatever your personal reaction to the album is, it’s almost guaranteed to clash head-on with your music-loving buddy next to you.
The one opinion that doesn’t clash, however, is that with their past two releases dwelling in the same genre and style, the latest development from the former folk heavyweights has been a long time coming. And I don’t know about you, but boy, it is glorious.
The release of the Wilder Mind’s lead single “Believe” was met with both praise for their adventurism, and criticism for sounding too much like Coldplay. While we can understand where that specific piece of criticism is leveled at, the track still possesses a decent amount of weight, especially considering it to be their first venture without twangy acoustic guitars and a lonely kick-drum. And for the unconvinced, you’ll be glad to know that the single is probably the least representative of the entire twelve-track document.
With that said, Wilder Mind, in its essence, is a record of Mumford & Sons’ development and growth as a band. Cranking up their Marshall amplifiers instead of a dishing out a banjo, the folk-turned-rock outfit really isn’t all that different. Yes, the instruments are different. Yes, the sounds are different. And yes, they’ve finally decided to include a drummer that doesn’t involve singer Marcus Mumford doubling up as one. But amidst all the criticism and weigh-ins being flung around, there isn’t as much change as people say there is. You might think so after listening to “Believe”, but the four-man outfit still possesses and fully capitalizes on the same approach towards their music. Just one listen and these traits will reveal themselves to you: the uplifting harmonies, the fast-paced rhythms, the high-tempo energy, the folk-influenced vocal nuances, and of course, the “start-soft-and-go-hard” style which any fan would recognize and love. The sonic treatment may have changed, but the approach stays the same.
The album opens with one of its strongest tracks “Tompkins Square Park”, written in reference to the historic New York landmark as they dwell on the pain and reluctance of giving up a dying relationship. The kind of song that would fit nicely into Spotify’s “Night Rider” playlist, it pulls you along with its steady rhythm and tasteful flourishes from guitarist Winston Marshall, adding a whole new dynamic to the song. The title track “Wilder Mind” treads a similar path with the newly added drums section taking the lead in a steadfast manner, while a driving bassline follows closely behind. This is where the influence of The National’s Aaron Dessner, who worked with the band on this record, is most prominent. More importantly, we find one of the most striking parts of Wilder Mind here in its title track. As Mumford croons, “Well I thought you believed in an endless love”, over ambient synths by keyboardist Ben Lovett, we hear the perfect delivery of poignant emotion and heartbreak as the song comes to a close.
Riding on the wave of their newfound set-up, we hear the rebranded quartet fully exploiting these instruments with several electrifying tracks. Equipped with Mumford’s compelling vocals, the band cranks it up on “The Wolf” as they carry us through moments of high intensity, reminiscent of Kings Of Leon and their stadium-rock virtuosity. “Ditmas” is another that exhibits the same fervency and likely to be a fan favorite, as its opening touches remind us of “Below My Feet” from their sophomore release Babel, although the band does pick up a lot quicker than the 2012 track. As the band chimes in with the passionate yet heart-wrenching bridge “Where I used to end was where you start / You were the only one / Now I see your eyes move too fast / You were the only one”, we witness a crescendo that hits a climax of electrifying distortion and the unique blend of harmonies.
While the songs mentioned are primarily anchored by the band’s new sound, the London quartet truly shines when they strike the balance between their past and present. “Snake Eyes” perfectly exemplifies this crossover with folk-influenced rhythms on an electric guitar to open a new exhilarating sonic landscape. If you ever needed a reason for their inclusion of a drummer, this is it. On the other hand, “Just Smoke” and “Broad Shouldered Beasts” are songs that would have fit seamlessly into Babel, barring the lack of an acoustic guitar. With their rollicking arrangement and inspiriting choruses, we find ourselves a throwback to the band’s roots while still incorporating their electric front.
For any fans out there who are still looking for signs of life from the Mumford & Sons of old, the soft-rock number “Hot Gates” and the groovy “Monster” hold the standout moments where the band breaks out into their signature harmonies. On the flip side, “Cold Arms” is one that achieves grandeur in simplicity as a sole guitar leads the way, rubbing off in classic melodramatic fashion with its melancholic yet weighty words “Weekend wreckers take the strains / With abandon in their eyes / But in our bedroom we’re bloodshot and beat / And never so alive”.
While Wilder Mind may appear as a paradigm shift for a band that is known as a pioneer of modern folk-rock, it still retains the essence of what exactly that style of music represented for them before – raw authenticity, passionate energy, and heartfelt emotion on display for the world to see. Look past the distortion and you’ll find those values, untouched and entirely present. Now that’s what Mumford & Sons are about.