Mumford & Sons: Babel Review

Mumford & Sons took the folk music world by storm with their debut album Sigh No More in 2009, a record that featured sensationally relaxing and enjoyable songs thanks to the aesthetically pleasing elements of Marcus Mumford’s uniquely raspy voice and Country Winston Marshall’s spiraling banjo riffs. However, Sigh No More did present a few duds that prevented it from truly being transcendent. Avoiding a sophomore slump is tough for any band, but Mumford & Sons manage to do so with Babel, creating a superior album that is engaging and compositionally impressive throughout. Mumford’s croaky yet sultry vocals showcase an extended range, while instances of pure musicianship shine through the numerous instruments that pop up to give each song its own special touch of folk influence. These influences manifest themselves through the band’s astounding versatility: Mumford handles lead vocals, guitar and at times, drums and mandolin; Ben Lovett pitches in with endearing accordion and keyboards, while Marshall adds the banjo and the dobro, a type of resonator guitar; and finally, Ted Dwayne’s brings superb string bass to the mix in addition to the drums and guitar. From the darkly dramatic to the reflective, from light-hearted fun to masterfully pensive, Mumford & Sons produces a beautiful and captivating record in Babel.

Standout Tracks

I Will Wait” breaks the traditional Mumford & Sons mold a bit, starting off fast and upbeat before somehow building up more steam as it goes along. The harmonizing group vocals that support Mumford’s heartfelt wailing are impeccable while Marshall’s sprawling and joyful banjo riffs add soul (and steal the spotlight as he does for the majority of the album). The fast tempo gives this single character, making it both fun and profoundly sincere. But as is the case for the majority of the album, the swelling tempo gives way to a terrific bridge to close the song on an epic note.

Despite completely conforming to the typical Mumford & Sons format, “Hopeless Wanderer” takes the rising tempo to another level and is nothing less than another triumph on Babel. Featuring urgent vocals, angst-filled strumming on the acoustic guitar and an all-around edgy tone, this standout track impresses with its rhythmic fervor and the intertwining instruments.

“Below My Feet” serves as a fine example of Mumford & Sons’ talent for seamlessly blending the upbeat fun of folk music with a contemplative and powerful message. This touching and well-crafted pseudo-ballad is the best of Babel and also displays the band’s knack for gradually changing tempo, starting off slow before building into a climactic and masterful bridge filled with banjo riffs and acoustic guitar. The impressive lyricism seen throughout Babel is on display here as Mumford implores, “Keep the earth below my feet / For all my sweat, my blood runs weak / Let me learn from where I have been / Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.” But what’s really memorable about “Below My Feet” is how much genuine emotion is wrenched from the note of each and every instrument.

The Verdict

The rising and falling of tempo and the pleasantly charming folk influences of the banjo and accordion comprise a successful formula for Mumford & Sons, one which they’ve nearly perfected with Babel. Like Sigh No More, there are still a few songs that fail to hit the bullseye, but these are few and far between on this unique and artistic album. Babel‘s only flaw is that in improving their enjoyable folk sound, the band falls in love with it a bit too much, making certain areas feel slightly formulaic and redundant: most songs start off slowly with an acoustic guitar and Mumford’s husky and soft vocals before banjo, drums and accordion help it build momentum, which then spills out into an epic and often sublime bridge before finally winding down into a slow and reflective conclusion. However, some songs, like the phenomenal acoustic ballad “Ghosts That We Knew” or the gritty and dramatic “Broken Crown,” break the mold and show just how much emotion this band can evoke from their respective instruments. And even if the equation gets a bit predictable at times, it’s still so enthralling it’s hard to fault Babel for utilizing it so much. Fans of Of Monsters & Men, Bon Iver, Passion Pit, Florence & The Machine, Foster The People, The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show should be familiar with Mumford & Sons, who should have no problem building upon the success of their popular debut with this superior followup.

Final Score: 8.1/10

Rank: 1st (two total albums)

Track List

  1. Babel
  2. Whispers In The Dark
  3. I Will Wait
  4. Holland Road
  5. Ghosts That We Knew
  6. Lover Of The Light
  7. Lovers’ Eyes
  8. Reminder
  9. Hopeless Wanderer
  10. Broken Crown
  11. Below My Feet
  12. Not With Haste

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  1. #1 by Michelle A. Rivas on September 26, 2012 - 10:49 am

    Although the style progression of each song can fall into a pattern, the vocals still stay unique throughout. By far the best folk/rock album out this year! Great review!!

  2. #2 by Elyse Howdershell on September 30, 2012 - 8:07 pm

    Such a great album.. I’ve been getting into a lot of Mumford and Sons, and a lot of Band of Horses as well. You can stream BoH’s new album on their website, it’s hard to stay away! : )

    http://www.bandofhorses.com

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