Ever since their first appearance in 2009, Mumford & Sons has ruled supreme as the kings of folk music. Their albums “Sigh No More” and “Babel” ushered in the modern-age folk revival and even earned them a Grammy for Album of the Year. But for a band so celebrated for bringing banjos back into the mainstream, there was always a feeling of cathartic rock bubbling beneath their biggest hits.
“Wilder Mind,” the band’s third studio album, unleashes that sound — the guitars are plugged in and the banjos have been traded for synthesizers. Pounding drums and distorted guitar riffs replace the group’s old stomp-clap rhythms and jangling acoustics. Their new sound is unapologetic and purposefully unpolished, while expertly intricate and sophisticated at the same time. Oscillating between pounding, garage band hits like “The Wolf” and subtle, simple songs like “Cold Arms,” the band has never been so eclectic in their music-making.
But what “Wilder Mind” lacks in that acoustic tremble is made up for in a key part of Mumford & Sons’ sound: their sentiment. The heartbreaking, beautifully versed lyrics that fans have come to know and love remain. The power behind their sound is not driven by an amplifier, but by the band’s fervor and zeal. Songs like “Snake Eyes” and “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” capture rare moments of controlled yet impassioned music-making.
Marcus Mumford is in rare form with a more intimate, nuanced vocal performance that focuses on the despairing side of love; “Another fragile edge/and a tender sound/and then you went aground,” he croons in three-part harmony on “Hot Gates.” He explores his baritone range and sounds more mature and skilled for it.
The album’s crowning achievement is “Only Love,” the second-to-last track listed on the album. The song starts as an earnest ballad about a lost love and slowly, methodically climbs into a rousing rock song that will have your foot tapping and your head bobbing. But the song still inexplicably depicts heartbreak and despair while building toward an ultimately familiar but still incredible climax as Mumford shouts into the mic, “Didn’t they say that only love will win in the end?” Banjos or not, this is still the band that won the world over with their blazing sentimentality six years ago. And they’ve never been better.
MOVE gives “Wilder Mind” 4.5 out of 5 stars