Mumford & Sons – “Wilder Mind”

Grade: D

Default Key Track: “Tompkins Square Park”

There was a time when vagueness was a part of rock music. It was big in classic rock – Springsteen and AC/DC alike told stories of everymen that resonated, even though they’re details were ripped out of entry level creative writing classes. Think about Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” – it describes a very specific girl, but an everygirl. Mumford & Sons harken back to the days of classic rock storytellers on their first electric album, “Wilder Mind.” But then isn’t now. Mumford & Sons going electric doesn’t resonate like when Dylan did it – hell, they’re probably quieter here. And in an incredibly overpopulated music scene, with artists like FKA twigs, Grimes, Viet Cong and TWIABPAIANLATD melting and reforming hybrid genres, and artists crafting increasingly more specific lyrics – see “Groin Twerk,” “Sometimes,” “King Kunta” – vagueness isn’t going to get you anywhere.

“Monster.” That was my choice for the first ballad of the album, when I first looked at the tracklist. Not because of the title, far from it – just because it was the sixth track. I was right. The album was predictable from the get-go; what you expect is presented almost exactly. The band sounds like any myriad of guitar-driven indie bands that’s existed from ’91 – present. There’s almost nothing memorable here. “Wilder Mind” stands equal with any of the non-“Hot Fuss” Killers albums, and any Coldplay album, as that album that most dads hold on to as a last grasp at trying to bond with their kids over music.

The album’s worst quality is that it isn’t worse than it is. If this album were actually worse, it could be fun-bad, like an ironic listen that you listen to for a laugh. But it’s just bland. It’s tepid, totally drained of life. There’s almost nothing enjoyable, and it’s forgotten before it’s even over. There are highlights, at least – the band sounds engaged on the opener “Tompkins Square Park,” a song that could stand as a Death Cab ripoff. And they do bring an energy to the table late on the album, on “Ditmas.” But the two Brooklyn-named songs notwithstanding, nothing else works here.

Mumford & Sons came out of the gates swinging a few years ago, armed with banjos, a new sound that rivaled acoustic dubstep, and a ridiculous personae that couldn’t be ignored. It got old fast, as they played themselves out, but they rode the world for a few years. Why they’d follow up a Grammy-pummeling album with this light-hearted, dull mess is beyond comprehension. Credit to a band trying to reinvent themselves, but “Wilder Mind” is just an old grenade, hissing with it’s pin pulled, and a crowd standing, slowly moving their fingers from their ears.

There aren’t even any songs about Gene Wilder. Should’ve been called “Whiter Mind.”

If you like this, try: catching up with the times

Larry And His Flask – “By the Lamplight”

(Photo Credit: Brooklyn Vegan)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Pandemonium,” “The Battle For Clear Sight”

“By the Lamplight,” the second official release for the band Larry and His Flask, begins a capella. It only stays that way for a few beats, but it is enough for the band to set the stages. Larry And His Flask are, at the end of the day, a punk band. Yet the banjos and intense acoustic guitar are equally reminiscent of both folk and folk-punk bands, far away from the slight Irish tone to their music. They are a diverse band, taking their inspirations more from cultures than genres, like a Gogol Bordello without an eccentric lead singer.  Their second official release follows this trend, although it is a little more standard than their previous full-length. Still, the a capella opening acts as a bizarre intro for an unfamiliar listener and a gleefully expected one for fans.

When Larry and His Flask are at their best, which is often, they invoke one-thirds Mumford & Sons speed-folk and two-thirds Nekromantix rockabilly punk. The opening half of the album sees them accomplishing this frequently. Early track “The Battle For Clear Sight” has a nice addition of a female singer, Jenny Owen Youngs. The second half of the album gets a little bogged down in songs that sound a little too unoriginal, because of an already high standard that has been previously set. Still, the album’s fastest and slowest tracks, “Home of the Slave” and “All That We’ve Seen,” help to break it up some. And the band always sounds like they are having fun in the studio, which transposes to the listener. They are a fun band, one that genuinely enjoys what they are recording.

“By the Lamplight” is a little less experimental than their previous effort, but it still ranks the band among the most experimental bands in punk music. Their sound is equal parts Celtic punk, rockabilly and folk, and their diversity makes for a truly interesting band. I learned about this band after seeing them in Brooklyn open for the Menzingers (a perfect band), at a show that Gogol Bordello was coincidentally supposed to play at (it got cancelled part way through because of weather). If Larry and His Flask come your way, I recommend them live. Their diversity translates to a fun live show.

If you like this, try: Frank Turner’s “England Keep My Bones,” another diverse Irish-folk-punk musician whose best album is the second most recent.

By Andrew McNally