Recorded during the Johannesburg leg of their South African tour, Johannesburg sees Mumford & Sons embracing the country and their supporting acts and creating something a little unexpected. With Senegalese artist Baaba Maal, Malawi-style band The Very Best and South African pop band Beatenberg joining them in the studio, the EP offers a little twist on the Mumford & Sons formula, and while it isn’t always a success, they hit the right notes enough to make it worthwhile.
Their newfound influences are best used on the opening track, There Will Be Time. Opening with Baaba Maal’s vocals and an arrangement of odd little percussive sounds and the distant sound of organs, it moves slowly between Maal’s minimal verses and the more familiar, folksy style of Mumford & Sons, with the bridge in particular melding the two parts together perfectly. Elsewhere, things aren’t quite as striking; the follow-up Wona is a bouncy upbeat track almost akin to Vampire Weekend in style, but its odd dubstep choruses create a strange disconnect that the song never really recovers from, while Ngamila simply lacks any defining feature that makes it stand out. The incredibly poppy Fool You’ve Landed offers a simple yet reliable middle point for the album, switching between languages in a way that treads the awkward line but manages to stay afloat, and the EP manages to close on a good note with the darkly ethereal Si Tu Veux. There’s a fair share of negatives to be found in most of the tracks, though the few stronger moments are much appreciated.
Ultimately, however, Johannesburg just lacks the spark required to make it interesting. There Will Be Time is the strongest and most enjoyable track, and Fool You’ve Landed survives based on the strength of its chorus hook, but the rest tends to fall forgotten after a while. It’s an interesting, unexpected mixture of styles for Mumford & Sons, but also one that could have been better executed for the sake of the EP. It was a nice attempt at something new, but simultaneously it’s nothing majorly captivating.