Mumford & Sons – Babel – Review

I was pretty excited to hear that Mumford and Sons was releasing another album. Their first LP, Sigh No More, was, for me at least, the soundtrack of 2011. This funny little outfit from London swam across the pond and took the American music scene by storm, firmly inserting themselves into radio lineups amidst the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne. They brought with them a powerful, folky, bluegrass-infused rock sound, plus horns, and suddenly there are hipsters coming out of the woodwork. Coincidence? I think not.

Mumford & Sons - Babel

Babel is currently in the number 2 position on Billboard’s Rock Album chart, with Sigh No More holding strong at number 11. That pretty much sums up Babel.

The title track kicks off the album, coming out strong with more of the Mumford and Sons we have come to know and love. The first few chords from the acoustic guitar say that you will be eased into this album gently, but then the bass drum and banjo hit you in the face. You stomp your foot to a pub-rockin good time for a few bars, and then harmonies and piano bring you back down a bit. That was your refresher course in Mumford and Sons.

“I will wait” has a country feel to it, and has even made waves on country radio stations. I think that officially makes them a crossover artist. Hopefully that influence will continue, because country music has a bad habit of being an exact copy of pop music, sung with a southern accent.

At times, I feel like they are trying too hard to play to what they had going on Sigh No More, namely, insane dynamics and really great build. “Hopeless Wanderer” tries to start off soft and work up to a really big, high-energy crescendo. Unfortunately, the transitions aren’t very smooth, with completely different cadences and keys used in separate passages. I really want to like this song, but it feels a little schizophrenic. 

Babel’s slower songs are pushed toward the second half of the album, “Not with Haste”, “The Boxer”, and “Where Are You Now” standing out for me, the vocals and guitar work being generally flawless.

Babel is an amazing follow-up to Sigh No More, but unfortunately, comparisons must be made between the two; Babel can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. Personally, I think Sigh No More is the stronger of the two, but I can’t say with certainty that I would feel that way if I had listened to Babel first.

Standing on its own, Babel shows that earthy, folky music still has a place in mainstream music, and proves that Sigh No More wasn’t just a fluke. I think I can safely say that we should expect more great things from Mumford and Sons in the future.

I give Babel five banjos out of five.

Yellowcard – Southern Air – Review

Let me preface this whole thing by admitting that, as far as I’m concerned, Yellowcard can do no wrong. They played a very important part in my formative years, as I learned what music was and what it means to me. I was sucked in by the pure energy of “October Nights” and my mind was blown by how much punk awesomeness could be made by a guy playing an electric violin. In fact, learning about an electric violin, and the fact that magnets and coiled wires are the basis of nearly every audio transducer led me to tinker with guitars. Electric guitar guts are a gateway drug to the mysterious world of electronics, and ultimately pushed me towards building this site. I guess I owe more of my identity to Yellowcard than I realized until now.

Yellowcard - Southern Air

Anyways, their latest LP, Southern Air, is awesome. There is nothing earth-shattering here, but every track is solid, and representative of different stages of the development of Yellowcard, the band. The opening track, “Awakening”, as in their more recent albums, kicks things off with heavy power chords, and fast drums, and slightly melodramatic lyrics, and of course, a melodic, almost mournful violin. The statement is clear; “This is our formula, and, while we may be growing up, we still know how to rock”.

From there it leads into more Yellowcard. There is a lot here that would have fit in on Paper Walls, or When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. “Rivertown Blues” sounds like a lost track from Ocean Avenue, and “Ten” combines the sad, emo lyricism from One For The Kids, with the more orchestral style of Lights and Sounds. They finish the album off with the title track, “Southern Air”, hitting the last bullet point for a Yellowcard LP: pining for another region of the country. So far, they left the Big Apple [heartbreak], to seek fame and fortune in Rock Star Land, to realize that they wanted to go Back Home, but admit that that is part of the Life of Leaving Home. Suddenly, the south “will always be home”?

The production value is excellent. Except for a couple rough [landing, holly] spots, Yellowcard’s last few albums have been mixed really well, without too much compression, and very good layering of instruments.

If I haven’t beat you over the head with it enough, Southern Air is just an extension of the post-hiatus Yellowcard. If the last time you heard them was Ocean Avenue, and you want to try Yellowcard again, start with Lights and Sounds, and then listen to Paper Walls, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, or Southern Air in whatever order you want, because they are all pretty interchangeable. Good, but interchangeable.

I give Southern Air four nearly identical Yellowcard albums out of five.

Ch!nch!lla – Review

I’m late getting the Saturday Morning Music Review off the ground today, because I had to change my plans halfway through. I was going to review Mumford & Sons’ latest LP, Babel, but two things happened. First, I recommended Mumford & Sons to a coworker, and he said it was good, but it was too “earthy”. Okay, that’s cool, earthy isn’t for everyone, but my last SMMR was about as earthy as it gets, and I wanted to change it up. Second, I listened to a couple tracks from Ch!nch!lla, and then I listened to everything else up on their website. Except for trying to type their name, I am really impressed.

Ch!nch!lla

Ch!nch!lla is a really weird mix of sounds. Weird in a good way, though. You can hear a lot of influences in their work, and the further you get through the eight tracks, the more you will hear.

They describe themselves as an “electronic/funk jam band”, and there is a lot of electronica-funk present (think The Gorillaz), but there is so much more here as well. There are tons of heavy and heavily distorted beats, with mellow, reverby vocals layered on top, but if you told me that this was a side project from Flea and John Frusciante, I wouldn’t even question it, because there are bass and guitar lines that sound like they were picked out of the dead space between By The Way and Stadium Arcadium.

I can’t really pin a genre on Ch!nch!lla. Maybe stoner music. I am guessing that they will get a popularity boost in Washington and Colorado. There is a little bit of dubstep happening, a little bit of the ambient, spacey sounds of Julian Neto, a lot of Ross Geller’s Casio, some of the incoherent lovability of Modest Mouse, the clever, hooky lovability of HelloGoodbye, and the infectious, poppy lovability of The Postal Service.

The industry of audio gear and the power of modern computers makes it easy for nearly anyone to start creating electronic music. It has given rise to a more electronic sound in pop music, and has given rise to a huge subculture of electronica that ignores the concept of listenability in its “music”. Ch!nch!lla manages to distort real instruments and use 8-bit synthesizers with more musicianship than most artists of today, electronic or otherwise. The eight songs on their site cover a huge spectrum of sounds, but still sound cohesive. I can’t wait for them to record a full album.

Together, I give Ch!nch!lla’s self-titled EP and their new EP, Providence, four heavily clipped beats out of five. 

Ch!nch!lla is distributing both of their EPs via The Promo Bay, and you can support the band by purchasing their new EP, Providence, on iTunes, or a t-shirt.