Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, ‘Here’ – Album Review
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros confound. Take, for instance, that their bearded guru frontman is not named Edward Sharpe, but rather Alex Ebert. Also, while the band is evangelic in tone, Ebert didn’t go to church as a child. And, while swaddled in hippie dippie ’60isms, the band wishes to be of the moment. So what are we to make of this nouveau-retro Instagram of a band whose ‘Home’ video threw them into something like international fame?
While some have questioned the band’s — and particularity their frontman’s — authenticity (with Pitchfork, ahem, comparing Ebert to Fruitopia, which is hilarious), this newest offering, called ‘Here,’ is heartily heartfelt. While dressed in a decorum not quite their own — this is not 1960s; Ebert is not a preacher — the music is organic enough. More importantly, it sounds really, really, good.
Permit a further defense: Hasn’t rock ‘n’ roll always been a blend of myth-making? Haven’t artists always adapted, even co-opted, the predecessors? Bob Dylan trained himself on Woody Guthrie, after all. A pastiche of Southern spiritualism with Free Love convivalism is a fine palette from which to paint. And those Zeros paint well.
The hymnal begins with ‘Man on Fire’ and sweet little truisms of “everybody wants comfort, everybody wants love.” Ebert says that he’s a man on fire walking down your street — and he wants the whole world to dance with him. The churchly language continues with duet ‘That’s What’s Up’ — “you be the sun, I’ll be the shining” — which, while cute, doesn’t capture the breakout love of ‘Home.’
The ramshackle spiritual of ‘I Don’t Wanna Pray’ falls flat, whereas ‘Mayla’ creates a swaying, rejoicing ambiance with over-the-top horns and fuzzy-bottomed bass — a blissed-out ballad suiting to hammock listening. The band is perhaps most effective when holding back, such as on ‘Dear Believer,’ with its just right organ swell and somehow tasteful chorus of “reaching for Heaven is what I’m on Earth to do.”
The folksy ‘Child’ doesn’t resonate like the other tracks; Ebert doesn’t seem to be enough by himself. The church organ returns for ‘One Love to Another,’ a simple song carried through by tricky basslines, wandering xylophones and the duet of Ebert and Jade Castrinos.
More of her is a good thing, as proved by rolling-around-the-grass rapture ‘Fiya Wata,’ in which she spins a Wild West ballad of drunkeness, floods, guitar solos and other excesses. The album comes to rest with closer ‘All Wash Out,’ which, indeed, washes out to singing saws, whistles and finger snaps — the correct combination for the Zeros.
‘Here,’ a breezy, evangelical picnic, is best experienced as an album. There aren’t any world-conquering singles here, but there is the bloom and burst of earnest songwriting. While still employing a legion of players, the sound here is pared down — Ebert’s still figuring out how make use of this maximal arrangement — and he’s well on his way.