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Posted on May 6th, 2015 (3:00 pm) by Michael Negron

Mumford & Sons are at a pivotal moment in their career. They’ve scored a Grammy with Babel and have since been sliding from the height of their cultural relevance. So, in the tradition of albums coming off of a critically acclaimed sophomore release, Wilder Mind is a bit of a change. Mumford has gone "indie rock," throwing away the banjos and replacing them with (a heavier reliance on) electric guitars. At first, it might seem that Wilder Mind is the change critics have been clamoring for, but it isn’t as significant or relevant as it appears: if you’ve always wanted to hear Mumford & Sons Goes Alternative, you might walk away satisfied, but there’s not much appeal otherwise.

At the very least, Mumford seems committed to trying the new schtick: the drums are louder, the bass is brought directly to the front, and the homey-but-polished production of previous albums has been eschewed for a thoroughly sleek counterpart courtesy of newly-enlisted producer, James Ford. If the intent is to let the world know they’re trying something different, it works; how could you not notice the change when the first thing you’re greeted with on the opener is an electric guitar driving the melody? Even as the track winds down, it fades to the more traditional “Believe” in a mesh of strings and pads that triumphantly wave about with the flair we’ve come to expect from Mumford. Without hesitation, it flaunts its new, shiny rock instrumentation, and carryover Mumfordisms – layered vocals and varied dynamics within a pop structure that always builds to a bombastic chorus.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume they might just leave it at that and call it a day, but to their benefit they throw a lot of new ideas into the mix. For the most part, there’s hit-and-miss experimentation sprinkled throughout, with a few outliers to boot. "The Wolf" is probably the most obvious of these, and one of the better songs on the album, fit to mingle alongside a Foo Fighters single, strangely enough. However, just when it seems like Mumford nails down what they’re trying to do, the immaturity of the work bubbles to the surface. The most notable case of this is in “Snake Eyes,” which manages to dabble in the new and exciting with some proficiency – starting straight out of the gate with the second usage of high-pass drums on the album (how far they’ve come!) – but an abrasive, patchwork instrumental section toward the end dismantles any notion that Mumford understands what makes “The Wolf” or “Ditmas” work.

It’s at this point that you not only realize how unsure Mumford is of what they're doing, but also that the changes aren’t as drastic as you first assumed; with the electric guitar finally coming to the forefront, you begin to see how far back it's mixed in the rest of the songs. That’s not necessarily a mistake so much as it is telling of how the music is composed. The guitar doesn’t need to be in the front because the basic structure Mumford & Sons has used for their two previous albums is reiterated, and binds the album as its most notable and unifying feature. The new ideas Mumford & Sons are playing with aren’t mature enough to stand on their own, and they know it. It makes sense that they brought on the longtime producer of the Arctic Monkeys, both because their veneer of “indie rock” requires analogous production, and because their idea of indie rock is stuck in the mid-2000s. This equates to the actual substance of Wilder Mind being taken from the same musical vein Mumford has used for the past six years. In the end, the process of melding the two is done so haphazardly that it devolves into an unintentional parody of itself, and alternative rock at large.

Track List:

  1. Tompkins Square Park
  2. Believe
  3. The Wolf
  4. Wilder Mind
  5. Just Smoke
  6. Monster
  7. Snake Eyes
  8. Broad-Shouldered Beasts
  9. Cold Arms
  10. Ditmas
  11. Only Love
  12. Hot Gates
Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

45 / 100
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