Mumford & Sons’ musicality, talent shine in sophomore album

If someone was making odds on up-and-coming bands hitting it big, UK folk rock band Mumford & Sons would have come in at about 1,000,000 to one. In a time where chart-topping artists no longer play instruments but rather press buttons on laptops while wearing oversized mouse heads, Mumford & Sons uses a banjo and haunting hymn-like vocals to get to the top of international music charts. While the rest of the world seemed intent on moving into the new age of electronic music, Mumford & Sons kept their music rooted firmly in the past and the band’s debut album, “Sigh No More,”went platinum twice over.

So how does the follow-up album, “Babel,” compare? Pretty damn well.

The new album feels slightly more polished than “Sigh No More;” the brass on it has a cleaner finish than their debut, and some of the more folk elements get toned at times in favor of something that feels as though it might be suited to rock arenas. And therein lies the beauty of this band; they are able to create the type of swings in tempo and soft-loud shifts with banjos, horns and pianos that are normally reserved for today’s electronic and dubstep DJs. Anyone who finds that hard to believe, listen to “Hopeless Wanderer;” the up-tempo swing in the song is vicious, elevating from a soft piano melody into a blasting, fast-paced harmony of brass, banjo and group vocals. It really is something to behold, Marcus Mumford’s voice progressing from an airy whisper to a reverberating, hoarse yell and the clawhammer playing of his banjo ascending to a rapid hysteria from a soft strum. To say that this band has the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck is an understatement.

Everything about the album is unique. The first single, “I Will Wait,” contains the type of hymn-like vocals you might expect to hear at a local pub. The album’s lyrics are just as unique, with Mumford peppering the album with religious allegories and introspective banter, all delivered through a blaring mixture of trumpets, keyboards and banjos. He talks about Jesus in “Below My Feet” and about serving the Lord in “Whispers in The Dark.”

But the album isn’t overly preachy. They aren’t here like some annoying, in-your-face Christian rock band. They don’t use their religion to try and start a crusade, but to deepen and complicate their songs. Songs like “Lover’s Eyes” and “Broken Crown” deal with ideas of sin, betrayal and guilt, in emotionally charged and moving folk terms, proving that while the band is moving forward, they still stay true to their beginnings.

Mumford mixes spirituality and sexuality so authentically that the album manages to exhibit both grandeur and intimacy. It really is something to behold and is easily the most unique rock album of 2012 to date.