In general, I try to write about fairly unknown artists in an effort to promote new and unique music to the masses. This policy does not exclude more famous bands from the realm of noteworthy music creation, however. On the contrary, the new album from Mumford & Sons, Babel, is a shining example of how reaching number one on the Billboard charts and being nominated for Grammy awards does not necessarily mean you’ve sold out. In the case of this particular British folk rock quartet, the media attention and critical acclaim is unquestionably deserved. They did an outstanding job of staying true to their roots and keeping intact the musical integrity that makes their songs so great. Many of you reading this have probably already heard this album, however I believe that its exceptional quality is deserving of a blog post nonetheless.
There’s something about this group that is definitively British. Maybe it’s their fashion sense, or their lyrics, or just a combination of the many eccentricities that make Mumford & Songs unique. They take advantage of their talent for beautiful songwriting and dress it up in a bluegrass outfit. Not only do are they keeping the folk tradition alive, but they are revamping it with modern production value and pop sensibilities. This is a band that can hold their own in any situation, whether it’s a hoedown in Nashville, a broadcast on pop radio, or a pub back in London.
They’ve received a fair amount of criticism for staying glued to the same musical formula they used for their debut album, Sigh No More, released back in 2009. I suppose that’s valid, however I don’t believe it detracts from Babel‘s content at all. Although it’s true that you won’t hear anything that unexpected from Mumford & Sons this second time around, you will be treated to twelve songs that are sure to be sincere, emotional, and true to the style we have all come to love. From the rousing title track to the haunting “Broken Crown,” the band displays a well-rounded (though perhaps subtler than most) collection of songs. The familiarity in their material is an attribute that should not be overlooked. After all, good music is good music.
Something that particularly fascinates me about this group is that they use next to no percussion. There’s the occasional kick drum four-on-the-floor beat, courtesy of frontman Marcus Mumford, some cymbal and tambourine accents, and the snare and toms added in on songs like “Lover of the Light,” but in general the percussion is fairly sparse. This is certainly not the typical formula for a chart-topping, platinum-record band, but that’s part of the appeal of the group. To be honest, I often find myself forgetting that there isn’t a drummer; the percussive element of instruments like the piano, upright bass, and the banjo is enough.
Another crucial element in the appeal of their sound is the vocal support from all four members of the band. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a melody sung in four-part harmony that I didn’t like. The voices of our favorite English lads blend together extremely well, and help to pull their music above the endless plateau of acoustic singer-songwriters. A message to all aspiring teenagers trying to communicate their deep, inner thoughts with a guitar and a pubescent voice: let Mumford & Sons show you how it’s done.
If at any point you find yourself comparing this music to that of Simon & Garfunkel, then you owe it to yourself to get deluxe edition of this record. Track fourteen is a beautiful rendition of “The Boxer,” the timeless classic that features none other than Paul Simon on backing vocals. Overall, Babel is an essential listen for any fan of Mumford & Sons or just good-quality songwriting in general. If you’re looking for an album to broaden your musical horizons, then this may not be the best choice, however it is a sturdy anchor for anyone simply looking for an hour of sweet-sounding, catchy folk music.