Mumford & Sons’ ‘Delta’ pleasant but underwhelming



Music that provides comfort plays an invaluable role in any listener’s collection. It’s pretty amazing how much a warm, familiar record can calm us down in a time of stress, or how friendly background music can help us ease ourselves into an intimidating social situation. Elevator music may be a kind of joke, but it’s a joke that helps distract us from that awkward stranger we’ve been suddenly trapped with or our fear of heights.

“Delta,” the new record from Americana stalwarts Mumford & Sons, is an immediately comforting record. Each song sounds effortless — carrying the listener on a bed of warm atmosphere and familiar lyrics. The record functions as a blanket that can be nestled under on first listen. If all you need is a warm layer over your day, “Delta” is a pretty reliable place to turn.

Unfortunately, “Delta” is not one of those beautiful artisan blankets that, when investigated closely, reveals a tapestry of beautifully woven, complex threads of complementary colors. It’s more like a patternless comforter the same shade of beige as the “Delta” album cover.

Mumford & Sons have never been especially experimental with their lyrics or song structures, but they usually find another way to add some bite to their music. Their debut album housed scathing lyrics in the midst of banjo-spiked pop songs. Even as they become more smoothly produced and less discernably folksy, Mumford’s stadium-charging crescendos have bolstered record after record in their discography.

However, “Delta” is the ultimate iteration in a trend indicated by previous record “Wilder Mind.” With fewer instances of Americana-influenced instrumentation and tamer climaxes to their tracks, “Delta” offers very little in the way of texture.

This is apparent almost immediately on opener “42.” What should be a victorious, gospel-tinged peak is smeared into a level, nondescript arrangement where everything is balanced and nothing stands out.

“Delta” is consistently plagued by this issue: areas where the band would have soared in the past are mixed relentlessly smooth. It’s as if any bit of possible personality has been trampled down so that anyone sleeping in a nearby room won’t be jolted awake. Even when the banjo does show up on “Beloved,” it’s relegated to an incredibly nondescript, two-note rhythm that showcases none of the instrument’s character.

The same approach is taken lyrically. There’s really no substance whatsoever to grasp onto. Every lyric is either so vague or so cliched that it fades completely into meaninglessness. “Woman / I never had such a sign / Burn itself into my mind / Do you ever really know / Can you ever really know,” asks Marcus Mumford on “Woman,” one of the album’s best-sounding cuts. The entire song reads like a middle-schooler’s attempt to say, “I don’t get girls” in the most roundabout, faux-deep way possible. It would be funny if there was anything distinct enough to laugh at.

Ultimately, “Delta” is an hour – that’s right, an hour – of utterly unremarkable, highly pleasant atmospheric rock that’s enjoyable so long as it’s consumed on surface level only. There are days when you really don’t want to think about whatever music you’re listening to. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find my tired self throwing it on for a nap or two in the future. “Delta” is the sort of record that basically begs you not to pay attention to it. In that sense, it might be the best ambient record of the year.

Rating: Beige