Like life itself, “Delta,” the new Mumford & Sons album out Friday, starts with questions. “Where do I turn to when there’s no choice to make? How do I presume when there’s so much at stake?”
From here, as if in search of answers, “Delta” takes us through a varied landscape, leading eventually to a child’s cry and one more question: “Does my love just make me feel good?” Mystery persists but acceptance is suggested: Maybe the cycle of new life and simple pleasure is all it’s really about.
“I love that interpretation,” says Winston Marshall, 30, whose banjo virtuosity has been a hallmark of the Mumfords’ sound since their formation in 2007. “Even though it’s actually the first time I’ve heard it. But, yeah, I think there is a coherence to the album.”
As to what that coherence is, Marshall leaves that up to each listener to decide. In fact, each member of Mumford & Sons may have his own idea about what each song is about. Much of this has to do with their approach to writing, with much of the material deriving from the regular gatherings they call “Friday Night Lads.” These involve friends hanging out, playing music together, tossing ideas back and forth and injecting multiple perspectives into the songs as they form.
This process reflects in the group’s decision to impose no restrictions on where their instincts might take them on “Delta.” “Our first three records were written with the instruments we had with us on tour, which were mostly acoustic,” explains singer, guitarist and drummer Marcus Mumford, 31.
“For ‘Delta’ we said, ‘Let’s not restrict ourselves at all. Whenever we feel like it’s right to use a banjo, let’s use it. But let’s use it in a way that’s unusual. Let’s layer it up and use it eight times over. Or let’s not start things with an acoustic guitar, which is what we did in the early days. Let’s do a proper EDM/hip-hop process, chopping up beats in the computer and then putting it in ProTools to use with samples. After all, we’ve got very wide-ranging tastes, from Jay-Z to Bob Dylan, so we shouldn’t have to limit ourselves in our creativity.”
Mumford, Marshall, bassist Ted Dwayne and keyboardist Ben Lovett devoted three years to writing new material, which is supplemented on “Delta” with songs they’d composed six years ago but fit well with their current inclinations. “We didn’t start with a theme in mind,” Mumford notes. “We started with ourselves.”
Marshall agrees. “There’s a searching quality to “Delta” because we were confronted by things we’ve never had to deal with before these past three years. I’ve had two kids. Ben got divorced. These raised existential questions for us all.”
Through the churning electric guitar motif of the album’s first single “Guiding Light,” the whispered wonder of “Woman” and the titanic crescendo and heavenly chorus that buoys the affirmation “I have hope once more,” “Delta” is this band’s most ambitious effort and arguably its greatest achievement. It also argues convincingly for the album format in a singles-dominated era.
“Albums let us do songs that you can’t put out in the streaming world,” Marshall insists. “That’s important to us. It means we can take our time on some songs without having to finish the story until the next one.”
“We’re not pop stars,” Mumford adds. “We don’t need to be the most popular band in the world. We already feel pretty lucky to be where we’re at. And we got here by doing what we love.”
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