Mumford & Sons’ shift away from banjo-strummed acoustic folk has been greeted with the type of scrutiny and shock reminiscent of Dylan going electric in 1965. The tizzied debates are somewhat ridiculous: Although the U.K. band has added ferocious electric guitars and lacquered synthesizer flourishes, the first studio evidence of the shift, Wilder Mind, isn’t some radical transformation. “Only Love” features lovely multi-part harmonies; the elegiac “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” features prominent piano; and the in-your-face “The Wolf” and Kings of Leon-esque “Just Smoke” retain the band’s pop tendencies.
More than anything, Wilder Mind is a sonic leap forward, thanks mostly to the influence of The National’s Aaron Dessner, who lent his studio (and expertise) to the band as it wrote new music. Unsurprisingly, the album frequently resembles The National: Strings and horns shiver in the background of “Snake Eyes” and “Believe”; Marcus Mumford’s vocal delivery is often grave and measured; and insistent drum patterns and spare riffs are prominent on “Tompkins Square Park” and “Ditmas.” In fact, if there’s a downside to Wilder Mind, it’s that Mumford & Sons don’t sound as original as they once did. That’s not a fatal flaw; if anything, it’s nice to hear a band so willing to change its core sound for the sake of progress. It does, however, make for an album that doesn’t feel quite as fresh or memorable upon repeated listens.