Mumford & Sons: Wilder Mind

Wilder Mind is simultaneously the worst and most honest Mumford & Sons outing.

Mumford and Sons

Wilder Mind

Label: Gentlemen of the Road / Glassnote
US Release Date: 2015-05-05
UK Release Date: 2015-05-04
"He's more machine now than man."

-- Obi-Wan Kenobi

"I'll turn into a monster for you / If you pay me enough"

-- Mumford & Sons, "Monster"

On the surface, Mumford & Sons appear human. Sure, the pseudo-rustic garb they often sport does give the impression that they are a gaggle of Urban Outfitters mannequins brought to life, but on most accounts, they check off all the boxes under the homo sapiens description. Yet, over time, signs have started to crop up, signs that suggest these men are not quite what they seem: that they are, in fact, highly lifelike automatons bent on the overtaking the musical world, one rowdy song after another.

Once upon a time -- the time being 2009 -- Mumford & Sons were an unassuming bunch of West London lads with a bandolier full of anthems and a desire to share them at venues around the United Kingdom. Little did they know that 2009's Sigh No More would become a global juggernaut, chugging on the fuel provided by mega-hit singles like "Little Lion Man" and "The Cave". Suddenly, the band was being named alongside outfits like the Avett Brothers in the uptick of interest in "roots" music. Headlining sets at festivals and sold-out shows soon became the norm.

To be clear, what Mumford & Sons do can't really be called "roots", "folk", or "Americana", exactly. Yes, the instrumentation -- guitar, banjo, upright bass, and piano -- does hearken back to times bygone, but in songwriting structure these guys are basically alternative rock. Simply put, if you replaced the group's default acoustic instruments with electric ones, you'd have an act that would cozily fit on a double billing with Nickelback. This lack of genre cred doesn't have anything to do with their country of origin, although their West London background is somewhat telling in their bland brand of populism. In his otherwise uncharitable review of Sigh No More for Pitchfork, Stephen M. Deusner correctly identifies that the name Mumford & Sons itself is "a play at quaint family businesses run by real people in real small towns, trades passed down through generations: both independent (yes, as in indie) and commercial."

Sigh No More is a good but not great acoustic pop/rock affair, one whose earnest and anthemic choruses are ripe for getting stuck in your brain for weeks on end. That record's less successful followup, 2012's Babel, largely follows the established blueprint, but its weaknesses vividly highlight the frequent songwriting screw-ups that plague these Brits: predictable song structures, uninventive instrumentation (their banjo player appears to know only one picking pattern), and clunky-to-awful lyrics. From lines like "I came home / like a stone" to the disturbing "I took the road and I fucked it all the way", Babel made it clear that these guys could benefit from an introductory composition course or two.

Mumford & Sons pulled a swift one in shielding the public from their weaknesses -- to say nothing of their increasingly visible robotic interiors -- through the release of the hilarious video to "Hopeless Wanderer", which depicts Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, Will Forte, and Jason Bateman as parodic stand-ins for the Mumford boys. This music video is the rare gleam of humanity in what is a largely generic but emotively delivered discography. The band sing-shouts lines like "Hold me fast / I'm a hopeless wanderer" with the sincerity of a robot "learning to love"; it's easy to tell that they can identify the emotions they're expressing, but their loud delivery is indicative of overcompensation rather than honesty. The goofiness of Sudeikis, Helms, Forte, and Bateman can only go so far in covering that up.

Now, with the release of Wilder Mind, the group's third LP, a core facet of the Mumford & Sons project has been largely lopped off: the build. Sigh No More and Babel, for all their weaknesses, do one thing well, which is nail the build up to an explosive chorus. Sure, the band wears out that formula to death over the course of those two LPs, but one can't fault them for knowing what their few strengths are. Curiously, however, while Wilder Mind represents the band's shift into electric instrumentation and mostly straightforward alternative rock, it's also their most lethargic outing thus far. The amount of stadium-filling choruses and arms-around-shoulders camaraderie has decreased, and the number of mid-tempo, faux-introspective verses has increased. The decision to put out "Believe" and "The Wolf" as the two lead singles is a smart and deceptive move, as both are the liveliest things here by a long shot. By contrast, album closer "Hot Gates", potentially a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae so famously staged in 300, simmers rather than builds to its limp finale, a strange tack given that these are the guys that wrote a chorus like the one on "Little Lion Man".

As comic Eli Braden cheekily put it, with "Believe" Mumford & Sons "went from pretending like it's 1860 to pretending like it's whatever year Kings of Leon were popular." Yet the superficial change in genre and the trading-in of the banjos for distorted guitars is just that: superficial. On choruses like those found on "Believe" and "Broad-Shouldered Beasts", it's easy to imagine that, perhaps in an earlier iteration, it was being written on acoustic instruments. But whereas the Mumford men previously sought domination over the roots genre, now they've got their targets affixed on stadium rock, their true home all along. Coldplay best be ready, because not too long from now they're likely to feel the steely grip of these automatons 'round their necks -- fitting timing, perhaps, given the reports that the next Coldplay album could well be their last.

As such, Wilder Mind is simultaneously the worst and most honest Mumford & Sons outing. Even though the overwhelming majority of these 12 tunes are boring to the point that they could legitimately be classed as sleeping medication, the songwriting here is what has been underlying the Mumford & Sons project from the beginning. In the words of the band itself, sung on the Wilder Mind track "Ditmas": "This is all I ever was / This all you came across those years ago… Don't tell me I've changed / Because that's not the truth." As the Guardian's Alexis Petridis rightly identifies, the sonic of Wilder Mind is

normally a sound that speaks of vaulting commercial ambition: it’s the sound of the new artist with their eyes firmly fixed on the big prize, or of the indie band sick of the toilet circuit, packing away their quirks and cravenly going for the mainstream dollar. But Mumford & Sons are already commercially successful beyond most artists’ wildest dreams; this must be the music they genuinely want to make.

About a month before Wilder Mind's 4 May unveiling, I received a press release for a song by an unrelated group that was described as reminiscent of "the new electric Mumford & Sons". That such a comparison was made prior to Wilder Mind's release is indicative of Mumford & Sons' power as robots bent on global musical domination. More importantly, though, is the fact that the comparison is wrong: yes, that the music is primarily electric does make it "new" for Mumford & Sons, but the spirit of the music is identical. There are just less crescendos this time around. Although these guys beat the rise/fall technique like a dead horse on Sigh No More and Babel, it at least gave those LPs some degree of energy, however predictably it played out.

A couple of lines on the tune "Monster" further peel back the faux flesh that lines these cyborgs: "So fuck your dreams / Don't you pick at our seams / I'll turn into a monster for you / If you pay me enough." It's easy to miss the admission in these lyrics, because despite the song's title, it lumbers along in a middling mid-tempo, which makes the attempt to spice things up with a harsh profanity flop like a fish in a barrel. If this is a "Monster", then there hardly seems to be any cause for alarm.

But, then again, sometimes the scariest monsters sneak up on you. With each successive album, Mumford & Sons have picked at their own seams, resulting in the slog that is Wilder Mind, which reveals them for the well-dressed automatons that they are. Following a rigid set of programming, they've stripped away the artifice from their ostensible Americana aesthetic to reveal the boilerplate alt-rock that forms its core circuitry.

So yes, Mumford & Sons will turn into monsters if you pay them enough; from the look of it, they already have. Based off of the taupe take on rock 'n' roll that is Wilder Mind, you've got good cause to keep your change. If you don't, you're just letting the robots win.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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