Mumford and Sons is a folk/indie rock act from London. They burst onto the underground scene in 2009, at the hight of the hipster movement, with their debut LP, Sigh No More. The record has since sold more than five million copies and is absolutely essential to understanding the musical landscape of this decade. Their follow up, 2012’s Babel charted at number one in the US and catapulted Mumford into super stardom, birthing the trend of Irish-Irish-inspired folk which would include the likes of Ed Sheeran and Phillip Phillips. 2015’s Wilder Mind was a bit of a misstep, though it still went platinum, seeing the group add a drummer and experiment with truer rock influences.
Mumford and Sons’ sound has evolved over the years, but a few tendencies remain constant. There are thick, obvious ties to Irish folk music throughout, particularly in indulgent harmonies and driving time signatures. They also sport a unique instrumental pallet which includes a banjo, upright bass, and the occasional mandolin or pair of spoons. Their latest release flirted with blues and rock and roll, but with Delta, Mumford seems to have found a new home in the world of arena rock.
Let it not go without mentioning, though, how sharp the band’s folk roots are in cutting through the spacious instrumentals. The opener, “42” features a gorgeous set of harmonies throughout, and “Beloved,” is driven by a heavily effected banjo. It’s here that longtime Mumford fans will find enjoyment. I myself could feel the high school freshmen in me soaking in every second, but this album doesn’t stop here.
Tracks like the lead single, “Guiding Light” and “Woman,” dive headlong into the stadium rock aesthetic which is meant to characterize this project. The reverb-heavy mix, looping guitars, and catchy hooks make for a fun foray into this new territory, which will likely leave something to enjoy for fans and casual listeners alike.
This album is most effective, however, in its final third as the group crafts a long string of intimate but singable tracks to close out the rather long runtime. “If I Say,” and “Wild Heart,” are genuinely quite moving, “Forever,” is a strong piano ballad, even the very experimental “Darkness Visible,” is unique and intriguing, and though the closing title track leaves a bit to be desired in the creativity department, Marcus Mumford’s lead vocals make it infinitely listenable.
This brings us to Delta’s most noticeable quality, that being Marcus’ excellent effort on every second of the album. Both lyrically and vocally, the band’s frontman is perfectly on his game at all times. Tracks like “Slip Away,” and “Rose of Sharon,” which fall in the middle of the record and feature the weakest instrumentals of the bunch, are more than rescued Mumford’s total commitment and heartfelt delivery. On the other hand, an already well made track like “The Wild,” is made all the better by his touch as the centerpiece.
The best song on the record, by a mile, is “October Skies,” which is able to sum up the best parts of Delta without falling victim to any of its shortcomings. The organic instrumentation and howling vocals are perfectly evocative of vintage Mumford, yet the drum kit adds an enjoyable groove. Beyond this, the track is beautifully produced, as is much of this album, building a cozy sonic space upon which to view closely the stark beauty of the louder, more powerful moments. The choir, as with the wide pallet on the project as a whole, is simply a brilliant touch.
This album isn’t perfect. Several of the anthemic staples the band touches on feel somewhat stale and done to death, and you’ll find more than a fair share of cliched lyricism. However, it’s a step that is much appreciated. There is a clear and palpable passion that comes along with this album and it is hard to deny, especially when the wide pallet, good production, and talented performances gel smoothly.
Delta isn’t the best album of the year, it isn’t even the best album in the growing Mumford and Sons catalog, but it is a powerful and decisive step from a once niche band toward branching out and finding new footing. For that, it deserves respect.