If there’s anything Marcus Mumford and his three ‘sons’ – Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane – prove on their fourth album Delta, it’s that they’re masters of the build and lords of light. At a generous 14 songs long, come meander through our track-by-track of this beautiful release from the English folk-rock act.
As we will learn is befitting of Delta’s cinematic nature, opener 42 begins with a gently hymnal organ. Marcus Mumford’s voice is layered into bright strata clouds for an euphoric set of harmonies, and there’s an immediate sense of rural space, while thick bass and triumphant trumpet introduce an army of benevolent marching snare drums. “I need some guiding light,” Mumford sings, as the crescendo takes us into track two.
This, the album’s lead single, is probably best experienced while watching its clip. Filmed in black and white outside London’s Tate Modern gallery just a little over a month ago, it depicts elated fans singing the chorus lyrics – “I know I had it all on the line, but don’t just sit with folded hands and become blind/ Because even when there is no star in sight, you’ll always be my only guiding light” – while Mumford beams through his vocals. The song is taut with the sense of escalating excitement this band are crackerjacks at conveying.
While listening to tracks three and four – Woman and Beloved – it’s difficult not to think of Mumford’s wife, actress Carey Mulligan. From whence but true love could these songs have sprung? The upward lilt in the way he sings the two syllables of the word ‘woman’ is practically the personification of the moment Leo shyly looks up at Claire from under his wet hair in Baz Luhrmann’s romantic epic.
We nudge the buggy back into untamed territory in The Wild, with banjo and glockenspiel kissing in the corner before the arrival of one bass note to rumble your guts at three-and-a-half minutes in – you’ll know it – and the lyric “it puts the fear of God in me.” Then we’re off into the sky on an atmospheric ascent of pizzicato strings, a strange swooping fizz of synth like the Dolby Digital theme, and finally bass drum, parading snare, and noble horns. It concludes with the tweeting of tiny birds, winging us through to October Skies.
And what are they filled with? The sweet female vocals of cherubim, but also the terribly quiet, deep moan of large spaces. The arrangements become even more impressive in Slip Away (“You’re not yourself; I know you better than you”), expanding into the relentless banjo-picking of a 6/8 time signature (with the accents on one, four and seven – the most propulsive of all, of course).
Now comes the most achingly romantic stem in the vase, Rose Of Sharon – but you wouldn’t call it a ballad. Yes, Mumford tells us he’ll “surround [us] with a love too deep for words… so long as [he has] breath in [his] lungs, as long as there’s a song to be sung, [he] is [ours] forever.” But the sugarplum bounce of the rhythm (herded along by subtle bongos and a reverse-rush into each half-time beat) prevents the whole from becoming Baby Bel levels of cheese. There’s a lyric-less “Ee-yah” repeatedly rising out of the mist, which becomes the song’s centrepiece – as if at the peak of feeling, emotions become ineffable.
Picture You is a throbbing, electronic-sprinkled track that’s just begging for a club upgrade. It’s here that Mumford eyes the shaded path, with the lyric “[You] don’t see it coming, the darkness visible,” pointing us towards the following Darkness Visible.
This denotes the turning point in the so-far thematically sunny tracklist. A very serious American gentleman reads the description of Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost – “A dungeon horrible, on all sides round/ As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames/ No light; but rather darkness visible/ Served only to discover sights of woe” – and shivering violin breaks into a thundering soundscape: electric guitar, piano triads which shatter into the relentless keening of one high note, all atop an almost industrial beat.
The clouds don’t hang about long. Wild Heart is hosted by the sweet drone of a piano accordion, with brushes on the snare drum and contemplative trundles up the piano. Mumford’s back at your earlobe again: “It took a wild heart to tame mine,” he sings. “I wouldn’t have you any other way – who wants a love that makes sense anyway?”
Penultimate track Forever is a piano-and-strings-licked ballad proper, but closer Delta is where you’ll want to focus your final feels; over gentle electric guitar Mumford implores us: “Walk with me, I think we’ll find a way,” escorting us into the syncopated plucking of banjo and the squishy nonsense-speech of what could only be mini Mumford-Mulligans, pattering behind rising chords and imparting all the hope you can poke a twig at with the line “When it feels like nothing else matters, will you put your arms around me?” Gang Of Youths’-style drums thrash and life-affirming guitar pounds, before it all whirls down and we’re left with those wee baby voices and a single staccato piano line, rounding us back to the simple and the sweet.
Delta is out November 16 via Dew Process/Universal.
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