Known for their foot stomping folk revival, raspy vocal harmonies and that omnipresent banjo, British (folk)-rock outfit Mumford & Sons have returned from a two-year hiatus with a remarkably different sound. Three years after the release of their Grammy Award-winning sophomore album Babel, the gents have returned with their third album Wilder Mind, accompanied by a brand new sound. Lead single Believe marks the band’s maiden voyage into a plugged-in approach to music making, swapping the banjo for an electric guitar, kick-drum for a real life drum kit, and even throwing in a synthesiser.
While certainly not spawning reactions quite as intense as those in response to Bob Dylan’s ‘electrification’, this bold leap into the world of electric music seems a marked departure from the sound and aesthetic that defined the significant success of their earlier efforts, and has subsequently generated myriad reactions amongst their established fan base. Perhaps this new direction shouldn’t come as a great surprise though, after banjo player Winston Marshall made a cheeky, but not-so-veiled comment about his distinctive instrument in an interview with Vulture early last year. Marshall stated that the band had not only “killed” the banjo but that they “murdered it… f*** the banjo, I f****** hate the banjo.”
While some fans are grieving the loss of the banjo, the instrumental additions and developments Mumford & Sons have made, support a panoramic, emotional rush of sophisticated sound. Soaring synthesised keys, sparse electric bass and Mumford’s distinctive impassioned voice make way for an unbridled journey into unchartered territory halfway through the track as Marshal, released from his banjo-shaped shackles, lets loose on electric guitar.
Mumford & Sons haven’t become “Coldplay & Sons”, as one fan has cheekily rechristened them, but ascend to heftier, stadium heights. The essential attributes of the outfit still remain under producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Haim) – tight ensemble work, vocal harmonies, and expansive momentum-building remain within a larger framework of sonic influence and texture. Mumford & Sons are not suddenly gentlemen of a completely different road, but they’re certainly not stuck a enjoyable, but static, intersection anymore.