High-energy arena-folk act Mumford & Sons triumphed over relative newcomers such as Frank Ocean and Fun. to win the most prestigious Grammy prize, album of the year, for its "Babel." The turned-to-11 folk of "Babel" was the only album of the year nominee currently in the top 10.
"Babel," at No. 7 heading into the Grammys, has sold more than 1.7 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The sophomore album from Mumford & Sons was released on Glassnote Records in September and at the time had the biggest debut sales week of 2012, selling approximately 600,000 copies.
"Babel" would soon be eclipsed by Taylor Swift's "Red," which sold more than 1 million copies when it debuted. Ultimately "Babel" finished 2012 as the year's fourth-bestselling album.
Though Mumford & Sons have released just two albums, the band's Grammy ties run deep. While the act was a slow-building success story long before it appeared on the Grammys as Bob Dylan's backing band in 2011, that awards-show moment catapulted the group to grander, mainstream heights.
Keyboardist Ben Lovett earlier singled out that performance as a pivotal moment for the group. "I think it introduced us to people who watch [awards] shows the way we grew up watching music on TV," he said. "It makes sense that it would widen our audience. But we weren't thinking about that at the time."
In the first full sales week following the 2011 Grammys, Mumford & Sons' debut album, "Sigh No More," experienced its best-ever sales week on the chart. Still, the act missed out on winning a new artist Grammy, which went to Esperanza Spalding
The win beats industry and critical favorite Frank Ocean, who represented a shift in mainstream R&B trends. Compared to larger-than-life belters or highly sexualized female stars, Ocean's "Channel Orange" is downright diminutive and took the genre in directions not often heard on the Grammys. Songs such as the nearly 10-minute "Pyramids" are borderline psychedelic, while "Bad Religion" uses little more than an organ and conversational singing to turn a tale of heartbreak into a nail-biter.
He may not have won the top prize, but he was one of the year's biggest music stories. "Channel Orange" became an instant topic of conversation when it was released in July, as it was one of the few major albums to openly deal with issues of sexuality in a genre, R&B, that has largely avoided the topic. Ocean's work was viewed as universal, as it focused on feeling and emotions rather than trying to make a broader statement.
Yet by giving Mumford & Sons the top prize, the Grammys also continues its recent trend of welcoming younger artists to its club. Mumford & Sons, whose members are all in their mid-20s, follows such recent album of the year winners as soul scorcher Adele (2012), orchestral rock act the Arcade Fire (2011) and country princess Taylor Swift (2010).
This year's album of the year crop largely represented a changing of the guard. With the exception of Jack White, none of this year's nominees had been nominated for the top prize before. (White was recognized for his work with his band the White Stripes on the album "Elephant," which lost the prize to OutKast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.")
The field also largely honored artists who adhered more to rock's traditions. White's "Blunderbuss," which has sold 466,000 copies, is steeped in blues, as is the Black Keys "El Camino." The latter, released in late 2011, was one of the biggest rock albums of 2012, having sold more than 1.1 million copies.
Rounding out the field was one of the year's most inescapable artists. Pop act Fun. had a runaway hit with its single "We Are Young," and its nominated album, "Some Nights," sold 992,000 copies.
The Grammys are determined by about 13,000 voting members. The eligibility period for nominated recordings was Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012. The ceremony is being held at Staples Center and telecast on CBS. It is broadcast live except for viewers on the West Coast. The latest headlines and any breaking news will be posted here on Pop & Hiss.