Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Here
By Heather N. Wible
June 5, 2012
After the critical acclaim and popularity of its debut release in 2009 (thanks in no small part to a charming father-daughter duo, YouTube and Ellen Degeneres), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is finally back on the radar with its second album, Here. Although more introspective and down-tempo than the wild and fun Up From Below, Here demonstrates a maturity and growth in the band that looks promising. The tricky thing, however, is that the settled-down sound also reveals past influences—to the extent that the entire album seems to come from a different generation, one more akin to the late '60s or '70s. This sort of nostalgic sound is not new for the band, but it does seem more prominent in Here—perhaps because the band itself is no longer new or concerned with doing or creating something and is instead looking at what is and what can be.
Tunes like “That's What's Up” (the closest equivalent to “Home” in its duet nature) hearken back to Partridge Family days. “Mayla” sounds uncannily like Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo,” made famous by the British band Manfred Mann in 1968. The chord progression is almost identical, as is the melody of the chorus—try singing one while listening to the other. “Dear Believer” has a carefree ease to it like the sounds of Peter, Paul & Mary or today’s Jack Johnson, not to mention lyrics that wonder “Maybe reaching to heaven is what I’m on Earth to do.” Bob Marley even makes an appearance in “One Love To.” Not only do the title and lyrics sound like a Marley tune (“One Love”), but the whole mood of the song takes the listener south to Jamaica with mallet parts reminiscent of steel drums and a beat ripe for hip-swaying. “Fiya Wata” points back to Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” in its sound, balance and content, though the Sharpe tune is a few clicks slower in tempo.
Despite the obvious references to great artists of the past, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes has left its own mark on the music. In a recent interview, frontman Alex Ebert discussed the concept of nostalgia in the band’s music and claims to rarely think of these past eras. Rather, he implies the band senses the reign of possibility in the current generation. “It feels like something with history behind it and that is building off of history,” says Ebert, “but it doesn’t feel nostalgic.”
Lead singers Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos still seem to have an enchanting rapport. You can still hear a bombastic and lively stage full of musicians—simultaneous worlds overlapping. “I Dont Wanna” is just plain fun and at the same time remains an honest look at the difficulty of relationship with God—an intangible being who seems to be a contradicting creator of both good and bad.
The band’s name draws from a messianic figure whose story Ebert was sketching following a traumatic break-up and his early days of AA. Ebert describes Edward Sharpe as being “sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind … but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” While the band may draw its name from this figure, it seems as if this second album draws its being from the message of Sharpe—almost as if this album is his own Gospel.
I wasn’t sure how this album would hold after a few listens, and I definitely wasn’t sure what this album would do for fans of the first album. But now, I so much prefer this album to the debut. There is something centered and disciplined about how Here is put together—many of the sounds and colors are more subtle than they were on Up From Below. I’m not worn out when I listen to this album, but it did take me several partial listens before I could get through the entirety of the album. This is an album that rewards the patient listener, to be sure. Now I can’t seem to get enough of it—especially since it’s a short nine songs long.
Where Up From Below celebrates life, freedom, fun and relationships, Here seems more concerned with answering the questions these things present—from God to purpose to prayer to revolution. Starting with “Man on Fire,” where Ebert croons his “one desire ... that the whole world come dance with [him],” and finishing with “All Wash Out” and the cry of “love is something to believe in,” the banner of brotherly love from the '60s waves high. When asked about the group’s aesthetic surrounding Up From Below’s release, Ebert said “It’s tinkering with the fringes of the heart.” That idea of play can be heard and felt on the album and in shows. About Here’s more spiritual overtones, Ebert says he’s “trying to open up a nice conversation about what I mean.” That contrast of play versus conversation is a clear and important distinction between the two albums. What will prove even more interesting is where the band goes with its next release. Rumor has it another album was recorded at the same time as Here and that it should be released later this year.