The startling success of Mumford and Sons can be looked at two different ways. Either A) they’re a standout member of the folk revival started by the likes of Arcade Fire and Adele in 2011, or B) they’re trendsetters who created the notion of a “Mumford band,” a banjo-heavy folk rock sub-subgenre that included Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Great Big World, and others. I’ll give Mumford and Sons the benefit of the doubt and assume they started this trend, which led to some of Coldplay’s best work, U2’s worst work, and the blindingly fast yet excruciatingly slow downfall of Imagine Dragons.
Since then, the Mumfords have for some reason abandoned this style entirely, and is now focusing on anthemic synth-heavy stadium rock, with the help of Arctic Monkeys producer James Ford. Members of the band have repeatedly stated that they hate banjos, and that they were eager to go in a different direction with this latest project, Wilder Mind, which just dropped today. Let’s see how it holds up, starting with:
#1: TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK
Alright, off to a good start. This track definitely feels like the new style M&S have described for this album. It sounds nothing like Mumford and Sons as we know it, and that’s a good thing. “Tompkins Square Park” tells the story of a relationship on the brink of collapse, with Marcus Mumford’s character grasping for whatever last morsels of affection he can get from his nonspecific love interest, all paired with the backdrop of bohemian breeding grounds Tompkins Square Park in East Village. This Mumford and Sons song has a killer guitar solo, which is something I never thought I’d say, along with a vibe that feels triumphant and powerful, yet weak and vulnerable at the same time. I give it an A.
This one has a slower, ethereal feeling to it. It’s still catchy, interesting, and well-done, but I don’t personally fuck with sad, slow music in general, so my opinion may be skewed to the negative. I should point out that, once again, my favorite part of the song is the refrain, which makes me think Ford might be a better producer than the band is a band. The song builds nicely, and by the end is a pretty powerful track. Like “Tompkins,” it speaks about the uncertainty of a relationship, in a similar fashion and chord progression to Great Big World’s “Say Something,” the difference being that this is actually a good song. A-.
3. THE WOLF
This one is a bit of a step down, which is kind of a good thing since this album was off to a bewildering start. I can’t say I exactly understand what it’s about. Something to do with lost love and whatnot. The beat is great, once again, but it stays at a pretty consistent high and doesn’t leave a lot of room for escalation. It’s a fun track on its own, but a bit week in context. B.
4. WILDER MIND
Now we reach the title song on the album, and it sort of seems like it’s the first song they made for the album, because it’s the one so far that sounds the most like old Mumford and Sons. Also, it’s not very good. Marcus Mumford sounds like he doesn’t want to be there. The meaning of the song is buried in overly dense metaphors, and the pretentious feel of the song in general is a bit grating. A bit too early OneRepublic for my tastes. C+.
5. JUST SMOKE
To be brutally honest, this one just sounds like old Mumford and Sons. It’s not bad at all, but it’s disappointing that this album is quickly falling back into Mumford conventions. It’s an interesting track about the foolish nature of young love, and it’s pretty catchy at that, but I really don’t have much to say about it outside of that. B.
Now, “Monster” tends to be a pretty consistently good song title (see: Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Imagine Dragons, Paramore), but this song is a filthy exception. It’s sappy, slow, and feels way too romantic to be a hate song. This is the first time Mumford drops an f-bomb on this album, and it’s obviously some attempt to inject power into a flatlining song, but alas, to no avail. D+.
7. SNAKE EYES
Now that’s what I’m talking about. This song starts off slow and builds like a symphony, creating a cool cacophony of sound by the end that really gets you pumped. The lyrics of the song are irrelevant, since they serve as a companion piece to the instrumental, but if you must know, it’s about some cruel and dangerous person, most likely another nonspecific love interest. Either way, great track. A-.
8. BROAD-SHOULDERED BEASTS
From its lapsing, dramatic beat work to its evocative title, this is one of the most interesting songs on Wilder Mind, even though it’s one of the slower ones. It’s not a song I’d listen to recreationally, but it’s a pretty cool either way. It’s emotional, but not in an overdone way. It feels like genuine emotion. It’s never really explained why the song is called “Broad-Shouldered Beasts”. The phrase is only in the song once at the very beginning. But it matches the tone of the song very well. It’s strong, emotional, and oddly comforting. B+.
9. COLD ARMS
What? Oh, sorry, I fell asleep. C-.
While it may sound like a made-up holiday from a mid-2000s Cartoon Network show, it’s actually yet another song named after a park in New York. It’s also another song about the end of a relationship. I actually think this might be the same song as “Tompkins Square Park”. Either way, not bad. B.
11. ONLY LOVE
This is another really mellow track, and it’s definitely a bit of a slog to get through. But Mumford definitely seems to be trying, and the buildup on the beat is kind of cool. Towards the end it picks up the pace considerably, and like almost every song on this album, the refrain is the best part. This isn’t to discredit Mumford or anything, but the beatwork on Wilder Mind is really cool, and it comes through on this song. Still, I give it a B.
12. HOT GATES
Wilder Mind ends on a more somber note with “Hot Gates,” a song about the narrator’s loved one contemplating suicide. The dark piano riff helps the song feel uplifting and downtrodden at the same time. The song gets to be a real tearjerker by the end and is a fulfilling ending to an otherwise mixed album.
While I may have preferred Babel, the band’s previous venture, I’ll give this a B. I like that the band is trying out a new style, and I think it works out pretty well for the most part. While I wouldn’t exactly call the album unique, it’s a welcome change of pace for Mumford and Sons and it definitely has some really solid tracks on it. I suggest you give it a listen. Like this post if you like it, comment if you’ve got something to say, follow my blog if you like it like it, you can also follow me on Twitter @BreakingPOORLY, and as always…
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