New Music Reviews: Mumford and Sons, Caspian, No Doubt

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Among the new releases for this week, none have garnered the anticipation of Babel, the sophomore effort from Mumford and Sons. Graduations, proms, weddings and all of your various life events now have a new slew of heartfelt anthems to use as their centerpiece. Fans of the band’s hit debut album Sigh No More will be pleased indeed — the band has for all intents and purposes repeated the exact formula, if not made a near carbon copy of the original. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Mumford and Sons have made their sound into a usable brand. Each track stays close to tried and true template: Take some classic bluegrass, cross it with U2, and add a Springsteen-ian front man who just never seems less than sincere. And for some, that’s more than enough.

For others, the constant barrage of tales of lost love, or found love, or just love in general, might get a little stale. Rarely does lead singer Marcus Mumford get truly existential. When he does, it’s a refreshing evolution for a still young band

Meanwhile, for music fans searching for a truly intellectual album that constantly rides outside the box, post-rockers Caspian have released Waking Season, their third full-length album.

Taking cues from fellow instrumentalists Mogwai and Godspeed you black emperor, Caspian finds ways of not only building gradual empires of sound and chaos, but also returning to earth in the most elegant and exacting ways. Rather than simply aping the commercial success of post-rock darlings Sigur Ros, Caspian finds new ways of showcasing lots of weird sounds. And despite toying with huge distorted metal soundscapes, they’re never far from delivering layered and mood-altering sonic Nirvana, often in the same track. 

Fans with patience will enjoy Caspian’s Waking Season most. And without question, No Doubt’s fan base has had to be plenty patient, waiting 11 years for the '90s ska-pop giant’s new album, Push and Shove.

Taking more from the group’s later electronic influences than their ska background, Push and Shove makes no bones about who the focal point of the band is. Gwen Stefani is everywhere, sometimes layered five vocals thick over sparse beats and minimal dance beats.

Bassist Tony Kanal is able to showcase his versatility in making pop music that moves the feet; but the rest of the band is essentially mixed out of doing anything interesting. The guitar parts seem like dull band-aids on an otherwise bruised and beaten musical skeleton.

And Stefani herself, once an icon of strong femininity, now seems content playing the confused, sorry, and timid sort. All in all, perhaps there is some doubt showing on the face of the 90s pop icon.

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