Wilder About Their Old Sound…

Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons

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I didn’t love this album.  You’ll probably think I didn’t try to like it, and that I am a judgey grouch who hates for no reason.  Honestly, I tried!  “Wilder Mind” was suggested by someone very close to me, in a casual question  –  “Have you heard the new Mumford and Sons?”  Um, NO, and I didn’t plan to, either.  All indie-folk, NYC and craft beer, hipster beards and banjos – I thought I already knew these guys.  “But this one is different – more electric.”  OK FINE; I conceded.

Maybe I was actually biased, and am now being unfair – but I am not really a fan of their first two albums either.  To me their style seems painfully slow, and somehow artisanally crafted to sound “vintage” by using antiquated tools and techniques.  I can appreciate “the Cave” from their debut album, and of course sometimes “I Will Wait” from Babel pops up on the family’s Pandora Station; but I’d rather listen to the grainy voice of Cat Stevens or hear the pickin’ banjo rolls of Old Crow Medicine Show just about anytime.

I’ll admit there’s one thing I learned from the Google Play description that I did not previously know – this band is from England!  I was so convinced they had crawled out from under the Brooklyn Bridge based on their earlier sound, that this new fact surprised me.  Otherwise there were very few surprises for me on this album.

The first track on Wilder Mind  is “Tompkins Square Park” – I actually like the beat, and initially I rather enjoyed the song.  Nothing really objectionable.  OK let’s move on!  “Believe” is musically something that could be on Guster’s recent album – kind of lyrical and slow, telling some sort of story that I don’t have time to appreciate … next!  Track #3, called “The Wolf”, was probably the first one that I really thought was OK; I liked the stronger guitars à la the Strokes (or any other power-chord pop rock group that sounds edgy  – but still accessible at the same time).  However, I think it’s weird that the singer still has his old-man-style vocal wobble on these rock songs – he is just better suited to the moonshine-y mason-jar songs he warbled on during the two previous releases.  He even kind of reminds me of the singer from Passenger at times, with a mountainy twang!

“Wilder Mind” is probably my favorite, if I can say such a thing.  It has a faint twinge of nostalgia and sadness that speaks to me just a bit. A taste of keyboard hones in with tones like a crystal electronic xylophone, before the instrumental solo is taken over by a Boys-of-Summer-esque guitar.  And Track #5 (“Just Smoke”)  is finally a song well suited to the singer’s voice –  it somehow doesn’t sound out of place here as he laments “thought we were done  / young love must keep us young.”   Maybe it is the clapping sound effect that brings us back to enough of a folksy feel to not seem strange.  Otherwise, this piece unfortunately feels like a church song, since the relationship of words to melody seems just too structured and direct.

“Monster” is a song full of quiet attitude – mostly keyboard backing up lyrics like “here is the name that our sons will learn”, and this intrigued me enough to look for the actual words in the liner notes.  Guess what – these “notes” are just a bunch of vanity photos of dreamy musicians!  Checking out www.azlyrics.com helped a bit, but since I’m not good at interpreting poetry I’m still not sure if this song is about cancer, an ill-advised hookup, or someone who left her husband… anyhow, I don’t mind this track!

“Snake Eyes” isn’t totally bad either; it has some cool sound effects that are eerie, screechy and trainlike.  On this song, the singer sort of has that energy-devoid, limp effect of Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters – but without the warm honesty in Mark’s voice.  Next track #8 has a grand title: “Broad-Shouldered Beasts”.  Therefore it seems fitting that it would feel kind of majestic and sorrowful.  It features lots of piano, and gives you that same sad feeling as the bird song from Mary Poppins.

#9 “Cold Arms” was very quiet and stripped down – still electric, but without a ton of guitar or excessive instrumentation. Next “Ditmas” was more upbeat (thankfully), but still just a little anthem-y and very heavy on the poetry.  And “Only Love” again reminded me of something by Guster!  Like their new wave song “Come Downstairs and Say Hello”, the way it builds from almost nothing to something rhythmic is memorable.  This song would probably grow on me more, if I could only this point in the album more often.

The album concludes with “Hot Gates” – just a little hymn-like, opening slowly with piano and multi-part harmonies chiming in almost like a choir.  I looked up the lyrics because they seemed so beautiful and sad, with phrases you’ll never forget like “I can’t be for you all of the things you want me to / but I will love you constantly / there’s precious little else to me”.  The version I bought includes the first three tracks again as live recordings, and also “Snake Eyes”.  This confused the heck out of me the first time I tried to listen to this all the way through – I literally thought “I’m having déjà vu – will this album never end?”

If you are already hugely enthused by this band and you love these 12 songs on Wilder Mind, perhaps you will appreciate the bonus tracks.  I have nothing really REALLY negative to say about this album overall, but honestly nothing grabbed me.  Nothing at all.  Not a single song stepped up and said “love me, sing along to me, I am telling the stories of your heart”.  I wonder if they will go back to their earlier sound?

Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Google Play – Wilder Mind

Purchase Album on Amazon:

Amazon – Wilder Mind

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