In the last few years there has been a swath of young bands that have crafted a brand of indie folk and folk rock that have witnessed a surge in popularity. Along with bands like Dawes, The Avett Brothers, and Good Old War, the emphasis on this neo-folk music has brought a refreshing change to the record charts. Of these acts, the group that has experienced the most meteoric rise in stature is undoubtedly the U.K.’s Mumford & Sons. Next week, the band will release their highly-anticipated second album Babel, a wonderful record that will keep their fans talking for a long time.
I will be the first to admit that I whiffed on their 2009 debut record Sigh No More. I spent a long time adamantly insisting that it was good, but not necessarily great, and failed to understand why it kept garnering substantial radio play. Last October, the Philadelphia area experienced an unusual dusting of snow that created an excuse to stay in on a Saturday night and listen to WXPN’s World Café celebrate its 20th Anniversary with personal favorite Dawes and their surprise guest: Mumford & Sons. The palpable chemistry and energy of the two bands playing together seeped across the airwaves and in a total Zen moment I was quickly taken by the British folk group as they played.
Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
There was no such consternation with Babel, a 12-track album that sees Mumford & Sons hit as good of a songwriting stride as you will find in a record. Beginning with the explosive track, “Babel,” lead singer Marcus Mumford evokes Irish cohort Glen Hansard and lays it all on the line as he passionately sings, “I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now/through the walls of my town/they come crumbling down.”
This sequence continues as the band tugs at emotion with “Whispers In The Dark” and “I Will Wait” before they begin a truly incredible run of songs in “Ghosts That We Knew,” “Lover Of The Light,” and “Lovers Eyes.” Of these tracks, the lyrics of “Lover Of The Light” shine brightest as Mumford retraces Babel’s namesake, “I had done wrong, you built your tower/ but call me home and I will build a throne/and wash my eyes out never again.”
Before Babel reaches its finish, Mumford & Sons smartly placed the softer ballad “Bellow My Feet” that leads into the terrific “Not With Haste.” The final song on the record, “Not With Haste” utilizes the quiet style of “Below My Feet” to its advantage by beginning with a similar volume, but is made as the song gradually crescendos amidst Marcus Mumford’s pledge of romance as he “Loves with urgency/But not with haste.”
Released shortly after The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter, Babel has given us a pair of excellently crafted records that highlight some of the best of contemporary folk songwriting in a very short period of time. While The Avett Brothers retooled aspects of their sound with their record, Mumford & Songs have shown through Babel that their acoustic style of music has many dimensions. The band also showed that Sigh No More was not a mirage, but merely a fore bearer of what is likely to be one of the five best records of the year.
Babel is available as a digital download, CD, vinyl, and a 15-track deluxe edition which includes Jerry Douglas and Paul Simon sitting on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” Mumford & Sons will play on SaturdayNight Live on September 22, the iTunes festival on September 24 before they embark on a comprehensive tour of Australia and New Zealand.