Indeed, all of this maneuvering seems secondary to the powerful sense of belonging the band's songs engender among its fans. Not unlike Adele, whose "21" was last year's bestselling album, Mumford & Sons offers a chance to stand up for hand-played music in an age of machine-made pop; it embodies the feel-good realism of people singing and playing instruments onstage.
And yet the group isn't didactic about its position, vastly increasing its appeal for listeners with no horse in the authenticity race. In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Marcus Mumford declined to describe the band's music as bluegrass or any other traditional form, saying, "We just call ourselves a rock band, really."
It's a refreshingly anti-purist mind-set audible throughout "Babel," on which acoustic guitars mingle with spacey sound effects and Mumford's often-sensual vocals act as more than a lyric-delivery device. (Both of the band's albums were produced by Markus Dravs, who's also worked with the sonic tinkerers in Coldplay.)
And with its period-picture wardrobe and foot-stomping singalongs, Mumford & Sons openly embraces a spirit of big-tent showmanship — the residual effect, perhaps, of Mumford's parents' leadership role in the Christian-evangelical Vineyard church.