Album Review: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

by   Jade

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (Courtesy of the artists)

Can Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros break free from the shadow of the behemoth success of their single "Home"? Their debut album, Up from Below, was put out last year and didn't contain any hits that came close to the longevity and ubiquity of the aforementioned song.

But that didn't lessen the popularity of the band, which was clear from the number of sold out shows from their last tour. The group seems to excel at the live experience, in which the force of the ten-plus member band is showcased to its full potential. The vibrancy and interplay that the band exhibits in their live shows are such a spectacle that their live tour video (2012's Big Easy Express) harkens back to a free love Woodstock-ian daydream.

It's also the stage that allows front man Alex Ebert (the self-styled Edward Sharpe) the ability to deftly experiment with his vocals and to emulate many of his artistic influences. The band seems to acknowledge this with their latest album, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, in which they focus on a live feel for the album and give Alex free reign to play.

The album creation process for the band has clearly shifted from being led by Alex Ebert and has become a more collaborative group project, resulting in a fuller sounding album. The group explained that they all had much more input about the musical direction of this latest album.

In a recent article on Diffuser.fm, accordionist Nora Kirkpatrick explained that she does "a bit of film scoring on the side," and that this is something that she brings to the group musically. The songs "If I Were Free" and "Life Is Hard" showcase the cinematic and experimental tendencies of the band. While the album does on occasion have the qualities of a film score, there are also distinctly non-film score qualities. For instance, there is a loose and raw quality created by infusing conversational tidbits into tracks, as well as the band's occasional and delightful ability to not stay entirely on beat. Both of these qualities resonate with the band's personality in concert.

Additionally, the decision to make this particular album their self-titled album seems appropriate. After touring extensively, being in and out of the studio and basically living together for near six years, the band sounds like it is a more cohesive artistic ensemble than it has been in previous years.

Alex Ebert has previously showcased his talents as a singer in several solo projects (notably the Ima Robot project and 2011's Alexander), but his work with Edward Sharpe seems to have given him the freedom and ability to play with whichever personalities he seems curious about at the moment. I'll leave my musings about the fact that he often wears a white tunic (allowing him to project a variety of characters?) to late night conversations over wine with friends and out of this review. I will, however, mention that he does change vocal personalities frequently.

Alex takes on a Lou Reed-esque style for the song "In The Summer," laughing quietly and talk-singing throughout the song in a way that is reminiscent of "Take a Walk on The Wild Side." Fans of The National would be hard-pressed to complain about "They Were Wrong," which features Alex doing his best take at Matt Berninger mumble-core vocals (ok, maybe fans of The National would take offense to that.) Are you missing the sound of The Mamas and the Papas? Check out "Two," with Jade and Alex sharing vocal duties with the rest of the band. How about something that could be the musical b-side of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band? Take a listen to "Let's Get High."

Edward Sharpe may not have another "Home" in the batch of songs on their latest album, but they found something a little bit better: an album that can take the live essence of the band and feature it in a way that feels entirely sincere, experimental, and fun. And I think that makes it far more interesting than a song that can inspire millions of YouTube covers.

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