Mumford & Sons referenced Talk Talk and Jai Paul as they recorded their fourth album, but the electronic touches that emerge on Delta speak less of those noted pioneers than they do synthetic nuisances Alt-J. The screwed sprite-like vocal effects of Picture You and Darkness Visible’s indistinct dystopian miasma (soundtracking a reading from Paradise Lost!) suggest a new identity crisis for a band who spent their last album overhauling their agrarian aesthetic to make like the War on Drugs. Distressingly, it’s also tinged with hip-hop: the stumbling beat of Rose of Sharon juxtaposes fey harmonies and Marcus Mumford proclaiming, “E’er our lives entwined.” It’s less Hamilton-inspired mashup than pure Spotifycore, a genre mess reaching for pan-playlist appeal.
What a shame. Mumfords were once adept at uniting disparate influences. Their mesh of big-tent club tempos and banjo hoedowns was horrible but ingenious – it’s a knack they’ve lost. And although Delta’s lyrics are painfully earnest (screaming into shadows, frosty words echoing inside, etc), they betray genuinely felt crises: Beloved hymns a dying grandparent, If I Say is a mature song about Ben Lovett’s divorce that doesn’t apportion blame, and a pervasive fear of the unknown comes to a head on The Wild, literally, when a sombre song erupts into battlefield fanfare. These many supposedly rousing moments are unnecessary and suggest little confidence in the quietude they do well. Mumford and Sons are more robust than the froggy-voiced folkies they’ve inspired, a weight that carries forlorn, enveloping songs such as Woman and Wild Heart.