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Mumford And Sons
Babel
Glass Note Records
www.mumfordandsons.com


While this is not exactly the "Black Sabbath meets Nick Drake" that Marcus Mumford had promised in his early press releases for his band's new release, it is certainly a bit edgier and contains some distorted guitars. And while some of the darker aspects that defined Sigh No More are not as readily evident, this new record is anything but cheery. And don't even think to yourself any unkind thoughts of the sophomore slump; Babel is the farthest thing from that.

On Babel, the very first lyrics one hears uttered after a trademark opening acoustic guitar line are "I know that time has numbered my days and I'll go along with everything you say." Not a cheery note on which to begin. Take note… the most startling thing for me on Sigh No More was that something could become so popular with the masses when almost every song was, in true folk fashion, about death or loss or the feelings surrounding those events. Babel finds the band extolling the virtues of loss once more, although taking a few more opportunities to kindle the fires of love and hope, as well. The music takes the same basic form as on the band's debut, but with some added variety to instrumentation and much more electric guitar. The songs remain incredibly well written and arranged, moving from quiet segments to full-on throbbing rock movements with nary a hitch. The band has somehow become more dynamic than previously, however impossible that might seem, and the new record demonstrates that fact ably. The music is mainly acoustic and folk-based, filled with banjo, guitars, piano, bass, and the occasional drum track. This new record doesn't sound far different from its predecessor, but it does evolve the sound a bit more; things are more confident, the songs bleeding sincerity and excellent musicianship, evoking the ancient folk music while being recorded with a crispness and beauty that displays the modern brilliance of sound.

While the lead single, "I Will Wait," is most directly a lovers' song, almost every song here is… but not the straightforward type that we are so accustomed to in popular music. Mumford always has the ace card, that black card of death and heartbreak, in his hand, only sometimes hiding it briefly behind his back before revealing the duality of life and death in every piece of music that he writes. But in all the love and hope and loss and pain on Babel it becomes very clear that Mumford has a grand appreciation of that duality of life as evidenced by the music of old; that life is not life without death and love is not love without loss and pain. Even standing firm in that knowledge, Mumford never loses hope and these songs are filled with a life and fortitude that will make them stick with the listener for years to come. Secure in the reality that death awaits each of us, the anthemic and epic songs that comprise Babel life the listener up on angelic, holy wings, while relaying their message of the ultimate end that does not necessarily mean defeat.

One gets the feeling that in all this darkness and light and the inevitable human struggle to understand either and both, Marcus Mumford finds answers in songs. The battle can be a long and painful one, but life is worth the living, these songs seem to proclaim. Mumford And Sons' take their songs and weave them in a way that wraps the heart of the listener within their warm and comforting embrace, blessing them with a solace not easily found in the day-to-day living of this terrible and beautiful life. That is what makes the music of Mumford so extraordinary. I pray that it continues to do so for years and years to come. As the wonderfully hopeful "Holland Road" proclaims, "If you believe in me, I'll still believe."

-Embo Blake

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Mike Doughty



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