Release Date: Jul 23, 2013
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
For any other group, album three is a make or break point. Yet Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros act as cool as a summer breeze. Their self-titled LP has the troupe’s familiar indie-“folk”-meets-psychedelia soundings, yet adds some new wrinkles (the Beatles-aping “If I Were Free”; the haunting “They Were Wrong”). With bouncy hooks and back-and-forth harmonies combined with singer Alex Ebert’s lyrics, the group knows what they are—and they’re perfectly fine with that.
California 10-piece Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros somehow embodies the ultimate modern-hippie stereotype while still exuding a refreshing authenticity. The mostly bearded men and long-haired women in the folksy collective unabashedly don their retro influences (think floral prints, scarves, feathers and floppy hats) while performing, and their live show truly encapsulates the uninhibited, collaborative celebration of music. It’s unfortunate, then, that the band’s third album sounds so restrained.
With their name inspired by a short story written by frontman Alex Ebert, after a stint in AA, about a messianic character who gets too distracted by girls to save the world, and with their music borrowed and revised from psychedelic '70s acts, gospel, and American porch music, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros sounds like an insufferable breeding ground for nostalgia and feigned self-awareness. Instead, over the course of three albums, the psych-folk group has become a dynamic vehicle for Ebert's narrative of the sincere, the manic, and the spiritual. “Better Days,” the opening track on the band's new self-titled album, manages to lament hardship and pain while simultaneously using rowdy percussion to suggest those “better days” might well be spent on the dance floor.
The band known as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes has made such an effort to be authentic in the musical genres they have been reviving since their 2007 inception that their songs occasionally border on parody. The band is clearly accurately aping and resurrecting the sounds of 1930s country, 1970s psychedelia, and 1970s classic rock with a healthy helping of folk and gospel linking the chains, but every once in a while the band’s playful wistfulness tends to remind the comedy conscious listener of the scene from Animal House. In this scene, a toga-clad John Belushi becomes so annoyed with a folk singer whining out “The Riddle Song” that he snatches the minstrel’s acoustic guitar and smashes it against the wall hard enough to destroy it (and make Pete Townshend proud) before handing the remains back with a sheepish “Sorry”.
Alex Ebert once described his dreadlocked alter ego, Edward Sharpe, as a messianic figure who was "sent down to Earth to heal and save mankind, but kept getting distracted by girls". On his new album, however, the folk-rock musician sounds as if he's dealing with more serious problems, such as whether he's got enough tie-dye, or how to feed his 12-strong Californian travelling mob. His songs are, in places, bleaker than on his previous two albums: on Life Is Hard, his gentle rasp spirals into gruff preacher-screeching, sweetened only by his charming co-vocalist, Jade Castrinos; ditto This Life, a stirring meditation on death.
Edward Sharpe is a sort of fictional spiritual leader dreamed up by L.A. bandleader-vocalist Alex Ebert. And on his outsize folk-rock band's big-tent third LP, he's in full-on love-drunk messiah drag. "I've seen better days/Dripping down your face," begins the LP's psychedelic sermon, followed by a mission statement: "We don't have to talk, let's dance!" The sound of the 10-piece outfit, with six more players assisting, is huge and more evocatively produced than previous efforts (see the Neil Diamond-meets-Otis Redding orchestral drama of "Life Is Hard").
The wild, woolly gospel of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros arrived in 2009, a self-reinvention of lead singer/songwriter/bandleader Alex Ebert, who was coming off his snarky mid-aughts dance-punk unit Ima Robot. Reborn as something of a messianic character leading an enormous hippie rock commune/caterwauling backing band, Ebert worked with his Zeros in an ever-anthemic framework on both 2009's debut Up from Below and its 2012 follow-up Here. Both these albums borrowed generously from a variety of classic rock radio staples and dorm-room favorites, weaving the influence of everyone from the Doors to Bob Marley into their tunes, resulting in a few hyper-catchy standout tracks and a fair amount of filler.
Alex Ebert, or perhaps his messianic alter ego Edward Sharpe, has a thing for magic. This intangible element follows the 35-year-old and his 10-person troupe of modern-day flower children as they continue their pilgrimage, currently in its sixth year, to unfurl joy, peace, harmony, what have you, on audiences around the world. A healthy portion of reviews of the beautiful, controlled chaos that is the Zeros live show center around the word “magic”, and Ebert once said quite simply, “It’s more fun to live with magic than without it.
Once upon a time, artists were reliant upon reinvention as their careers progressed; this model was perfected by pioneers like David Bowie and Paul Simon, who somehow managed to traverse myriad musical contexts while maintaining a thread of consistency throughout. It's a remarkable balancing act, and a necessary one if longevity is part of an artist's plans. Of course, it's easier to negotiate stylistic sea changes as a solo artist than a full-fledged band, let alone one with 10 members, but for whatever reason, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros haven't learned any appreciable new moves since 2009's Up From Below.
ESATMZ are a multi-headed collective in outlandish costumes who recreate ’70s hippydom. But on this melodically inventive third album, Edward Sharpe – the Messianic alter ego of frontman Alex Ebert – also manages to pastiche ’60s soul-funk, gunfight mariachi and preacherman gospel – often to painfully corny effect. When ‘If I Were Free’ mashes up Mick Hucknall, Pink Floyd solos, Waterboys folk and comedy ‘Yellow Submarine’ twizzles, it negates any psych-pop fun to be had elsewhere.
Ask Edward Sharpe, and he'll tell you: all you need is love, and-- you got it-- love is all you need. Roughly half the songs on Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros-- the economy sized L.A. troupe's self-titled third LP-- find Sharpe and company singing about love; not just romance, but a bigger kind of love, a force for good in this mean old world of ours.
Ever since Alex Ebert, occasional frontman of Californian dancepunks Ima Robot, was born again as leader of hippy-folk troupe ES&TMZ, the good vibes have rolled forth. No shortage of them on their third album – a bright, colour-saturated record indebted to the loopiest excesses of 60s psychedelia – but the chirpiness is wearing thin. With the conviction of a true believer,Ebert indulges plenty of whims he really shouldn't: the offbeat gospel rock and droning coda of Let's Get High is a particular trial.
opinion byADRIENNE THOMAS Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros refuse to subdue their musical pep, despite the increasingly heavy topics that their lyrics casually confess. A band with ten members and endless instrumental varieties is their tangible means to an honest and upbeat, anthem-bellowed sound. Frontman Alexander Ebert’s robust vocals and his band’s harmonies in unison declare a state of satisfaction within the world and inside themselves.
Praise The Lord! Crack the windows wide! Let the sunshine in! It’s a beautiful new day and there is no place for the sceptical, cynical or critical. Don’t hold back; bounce off the front door step and blurt a chipper ‘Morning!’ to the slack-jowled misery next door - hell, why not even slip him a cup of Tate & Lyle – because life is great. The dazzling glint from those brash pearly whites could blind, but who gives a stuff when the soundtrack is something so ridiculously glorious it could lure the psychologically unhinged down from bridge barriers (or be the final straw depending on their disposition for sugary nostalgia).
Music that can charitably be described as ‘indie folk’ hardly represents an industry that’s currently going through a fallow period. The obvious offenders are Mumford & Sons, a band for which all reserves of disparaging epithets have been exhausted, so I won’t bother here, but you could also count The Lumineers, The Head and The Heart and Of Monsters And Men amongst the ranks of those currently concerned with producing cynically constructed, faux-emotional ‘anthems’ designed exclusively for the kind of casual-at-best music fans that tend to swarm the mainstream festival circuit these days. With their self-titled third record, you can add to that list Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros.
Having released a debut that caught people’s attention and a follow-up album that proved the first one wasn’t a fluke, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros take the next logical step for their third act: They put out the inevitable disappointment. Instead of invoking a mood and place as on their first two albums, “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros” finds the band/collective in the less useful act of simply aping a style, in this case the electric praise music of feel-good Christian hippies. Alex Ebert still sounds like a man singing from the pulpit, but there’s a growing distance between him and everyone else that’s not bridged until the closing lament, “This Life.