Mumford, Lovett, Marshall and Dwane's fourth album is a subdued, mature and highly interesting affair that will disappoint any die-hard fan hoping for some funky banjo hits just as much as the Pitchfork critics looking for some ill-advised country pop renaissance. For just about everyone else, however, Delta is an outstanding recommendation, a brilliant piece of music and one of the best albums that you can listen to this month.
A beautiful ballad carried by Marcus Mumford's vocals (which, despite what the naysayers tend to claim, can actually sing quite well), "Delta" is the title single as well as the closing track on this album, and as such is definitely the quintessential piece for this 'new' Mumford sound.
And what a brilliant sound this is: gone are the blaring banjo, the frantic accordions and the foot-stomping tempo from Mumford and Sons' earliest efforts; replaced with a mature, controlled sound that is palatable enough to be played on any radio station, but complex and layered enough that it doesn't get tiring even after the umpteenth listen.
Just like its namesake album, "Delta" is something quite new for the band. It has samples and orchestral pieces, and it has little country influences, if any at all. If you're unsure about whether or not you like the new sound, just spend six minutes of your life listening to this track: it is the new Mumford in a nutshell, and chances are it'll end up leaving you wanting for more
"Picture you" is an incredibly modern track which clearly draws its influences from ambient acts such as Hammock or even Moby, and yet manages to remain cohesive with the mood and sound of the rest of the album.
Every verse of "Picture you" builds on the previous one, and the very simple synth track that opens the song is used as a base for a sweeping arrangement which picks up speed and volume and concludes the song in a beautiful crescendo.
But most of all, "Picture you" is an intimate, beautiful love song that will no doubt remind you of some of the happiest moment of your life. If music needs to speak to us, then "Picture you" gets its message across loud and clear, and ends up being possibly the best track in the album. An absolute stunner.
One of the most upbeat tracks in the album, "Slip Away" is more reminiscent of bands like The National or Arcade Fire than of Mumford's earliest successes. Almost a ballad, but not quite, "Slip Away" is a colorful, masterfully creative piece that absolutely knocks it out of the park.
"You find me holding my breath for you", sings Mumford; "It's never more than I can take, I wouldn't have it any other way". It's brooding and beautiful, it's complex but catchy and it's the definitive proof that this is a band that has reached maturity.
It's very rare for a band to rise to success through a couple of very distinctive gimmicks, pivot their style completely and for the best, and produce an album of this type and quality.
Yet after a couple of faux-pas (2015's "Wilder Mind" was objectively quite a bad album, and 2016's "Johannesburg" was a puzzling, if arguably interesting, experiment), Mumford & Sons are finally back with an incredibly intimate and endearing sound that, this time, is completely under their control.
Fans of Mumford's previous output, those who danced their worries away on the notes of "I will wait", those who learned to play "The Cave" to impress their girlfriend, and yes, those who loved the Mumford Banjo, will need to look elsewhere for their dose of folk-pop (Smith & Tell are not that bad, aren't they?). And yes, "Delta" is not the best album of the year.
But it is a good album nonetheless; it is an admirable creative effort and it more or less succeeds in being the capstone of a process that lasted years and saw Mumford & Sons pivot from a jingle factory to a serious band. For this reason, and because its songs are quite good, if you're an open-minded music lover, please give "Delta" the listen it deserves.
For everyone else, here's Jason Suidekis with a banjo.
If you liked this, also listen to: anything by The National, any album by Arcade Fire except "Reflektor"
Other memorable band pivots: The Naked and Famous, went from "Passive me, Aggressive you" to "In Rolling Waves". The Temper Trap, went from "Conditions" to "The Temper Trap". Radiohead, from "OK Computer" to "Kid A". Think of it, it happens quite a lot...