Mumford and Sons :: Babel

The first time I ever heard Mumford and Sons I did not like them, I figure I should just get that immediately out of the way before diving in to their new album. It took time and attention, and some repeated listening, to have this band grow on me, but when they eventually did I found myself loving them.

Lyrically this band’s music comes across as literary in nature. Their songs are the stuff of libraries full of classic storytelling, tomes of philosophy, and epic poetic narratives. These are not quick-fix, one-night stand affairs of music, these are heavy and complex, and time-invested relationship kind of music. Lofty at times, rich and mythical at others, and then they go and throw in an expletive now and then; this is damn good music, it just took some time for me to recognize it, and grow to love Mumford and Sons first album, Sigh No More.

I think at first listen there was something in the lead singer’s voice that reminded me of Dave Matthews, a comparison that I gratefully no longer hear in Marcus Mumford’s singing, but it does explain why I would have been initially put off. The jangly mandolin and banjo combination, though, dragged me in and as I listened, and then listened some more, I started to truly hear the songs. Then the lyrics surfaced and Marcus’ voice seemed to settle and change for me. This was a unique happening in my own musical history, as I am a lyric-girl, ever and always taken in by the words first and then the music. Mumford and Sons took me differently, and in some ways that has made them all the more important and unforgettable to me.

The new album, Babel, I sought after with anticipation, this time thrilled to hear more of the band. The album starts out as it stopped on Sigh No More. Babel, the opening number which shares its title with the album, has that now signature Mumford and Sons jangly build that creeps into the bloodstream, causing the pulse to quicken as the song expands and then explodes. Chock full of biblical references about talking without communicating, and the nature of too many languages saying nothing, work well as an analogy of the lack of understanding that often accompanies relationships.

Hopeless Wanderer follows course with the Mumford sound, but starts off slower, meandering a bit as the title might suggest until the song, and the traveler, start to run and leap. Holland Road is right there, as well, vying to be the next single radio release – this could be what The Cave was to Little Lion Boy last year.

I Will Wait, the albums first released single, is also my initial favorite. A lovely love song which strums and strokes at my heartstrings with ease, awakening the romantic in me which is admittedly not that hard to shake awake, but in this case it is done in a way that does not oversaturate with sentimentality and “cheesiness”, instead the song is both genuine and beautiful. The song reminds me of a character in a book I am reading enough so that I want to build it into a reading playlist. I am ever delighted when I can connect forms of art together as I am consuming them.

Lovers’ Eyes is right there behind I Will Wait as a favorite, a song I keep finding myself replaying.  The vulnerability revealed in the quieter moments of this song which really works here. There are moments where it feels as if the song will explode into the power-folk sound the band does so well, but then it slows again, a gentler push and pull which imparts the message the song seems to convey of how one feels under the spell of a new lover’s touch and taste and sight. The walking away at the end of the song comes across so bittersweet, vocals trailing off in time to the fade of the music, as if it is all disappearing somewhere in the distance.

Below My Feet starts out in the softer range, but falls into what unfortunately feels formulaic here, in the slow build and jangly sounds that though unique to the band, come across as predictable in this song,  and that predictability lends itself to boredom. I find myself skipping this song at the half-way mark. I wish instead we had gotten a truly stripped down vocal here, something a bit unexpected, and more moving. I think it could have worked with this song.

Not with Haste, on the other hand, is simply breathtaking. The light strum on the guitar, the wavering vocals, the both work together into something lovely. This song feels effortless. The lyrics “we will be who we are and they will hear our scars” is moving and chill-inducing, and comes at just the right moment in the song to make the transition of building into true Mumford and Sons style. In this song it works, and works well, and is proof positive of why I ended up falling in love with this band. Not Without Haste may be tying with my favorite song.

Overall, this album is a strong sophomore effort, and delivers what one would want and expect from the band. At times, I do wish they had tried to simplify, but the majority of the time I am enthralled to  ride along the jangly twist and turns, and mountainous climbs, along with them. This album demands repeated listens to truly take in the layers of sound and story, with each new play something else is exposed and felt to me, and new favorites seem to emerge. This album will receive a lot of action in my life.

I Will Wait :: Mumford and Sons

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