Release Date: Apr 15, 2016
Record label: Community Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia
Ten-piece folk-rock group Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are letting go of their fictional messianic leader with PersonA. Edward Sharpe's dramatic crossing out on the album covers alludes to the band's progression towards a new era, in which they continue to embrace the '60s psychedelic and folk highlights they do so well while producing a fuller, nearly orchestral sound. Opening track "Hot Coals" tickles the piano keys and features tempo change-ups to complement singer Alex Ebert's aggressive lyricism as he hits on the pains and pleasures of love, pleading, "Stay the fuck in my heart.
In 2007 Alex Ebert started a band. They were called Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. The name came from a character in a book Ebert had written after a stint in rehab. In the book the character was a messianic figure, and Ebert adopted this persona to help get his life back in track. Over the ….
For their fourth album, Alex Ebert and his hippie-vibes collective shambled to New Orleans, fusing light psychedelia with lighter R&B and jazz touches for music that often goes down like acid-spiked gumbo. Songs are as gaping as the seven-minute dashiki-ragtime reverie “Hot Coals,” and as campfire-warm as “The Ballad of Yaya,” a down-home-trippy intimation of mortality. The yaya factor is high indeed, and Ebert sings like a stoned Muppet.
It’s all change in the world of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. So much so in fact, that it seems that Edward Sharpe may not even exist anymore. If, indeed, he ever did. Confused? Perhaps an explanation is in order: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are a 10-strong collective from Los Angeles, led (rather confusingly) by Alex Ebert who took their name from a short story he once wrote about a messiah-type figure named Edward Sharpe.
Intentional or not, all bands have a brand. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most groups worthy of mention are so because of their narrative, as well as their music. When a connection can be made both sonically and humanly, an exciting new dimension is opened up. Where things get tricky, though, is when the image begins to overshadow the main event.
Since restyling himself as charismatic bandleader Edward Sharpe, Alex Ebert has enjoyed considerable success – most notably with raucous 2009 single Home, on which he and now-departed vocalist Jade Castrinos sang about their feelings for one other as if they lived in an old barn, rather than 21st-century LA. Affectation is part and parcel of Ebert’s work with his band, and this fourth album sees the group continue to trowel on the rustic glaze. On No Love Like Yours, Ebert, in a typical show of faux naivety, claims not to know his “name”, “style” or “a thing or two”.
For their fourth LP, PersonA, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros changed up their process, gathering the whole band into a single room to write and record as a group for the first time. The all-for-one concept is illustrated with cover art that redacts "Edward Sharpe and" with red lines. If alter ego Edward Sharpe is gone, the soulful quiver of bandleader Alex Ebert remains, as does the occasionally foot-stomping psychedelia of the now ten-piece ensemble (with the departure of co-singer Jade Castrinos).
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are known for their upbeat, participatory music. The latest album, their first since Jade Castrinos’ departure from the band, PersonA will no doubt polarize fans as a solemn and self-reflective album. The artwork for this record — a painting by Christian Letts — is overlaid with the text “Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros,” the “Edward Sharpe and” crossed out in the style of a spray-painted line, as if to say that version of the band is dead.
Alex Ebert is, among many things, a master of reinvention. With Ima Robot in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, he was an art-punker with an asymmetrical haircut. Then, with the rise of communal indie folk in the late 2000s, he reformed himself in the mold of Edward Sharpe, a shamanistic messiah with a merry band of pranksters meant to bring about hippy-style good vibes.
Edward Sharpe has made his name by peddling a particular brand of fabricated hippie utopianism. He’s a charlatan, but he believes in the promise he’s selling and, perhaps more importantly, he sells it well: this solitary sing-along chorus can solve the world’s most complex sociological ills, he might say, trust me, just belt out this melody and lift your hands in unison. From 2009’s spirited yet transparently specious Up From Below to 2012’s rustic psych-rock conundrum Here to 2013’s retro-for-retro’s-sake eponymous LP, Sharpe and his cohort of itinerant multi-instrumentalists, The Magnetic Zeroes, have thrived on a revivalist flower-folk aesthetic centered around a faux messianic figure and the all-accepting, all-loving future he preaches.
When former Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert debuted his pseudo-folk-cult Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros with Up From Below in 2009, critics could temporarily set aside their aversion to the band’s aesthetic and concept—which was lifted from former Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter’s pseudo-folk-cult The Polyphonic Spree anyway—to acknowledge (if begrudgingly) the attractively warm qualities of the album and infectious single “Home. ” As the group pressed on, however, that tolerance rapidly faded, and open-minded consideration was in short supply for the majestically subdued Here in 2012 and the fuzzed-out groove of 2013’s self-titled effort. Without much more to lose, they approached the new PersonA open to taking some big risks, and, for those that can clear their head of preconceptions, it largely delivers.
Folk’s sincerest Earth-child is back with a new Zeros album, and even less ego - so much less, that he’s crossed his own pseudonym off the album cover, keeping only the namesake of his ten-person convent visible. Leaning deeply on the shoulders of his fellow Zeros - with the onus off himself for a change - Alexander Ebert lets himself get liberated on PersonA. This band sounds like home.