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ALBUM: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ Here

Almost two years ago now a new band, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, exploded onto the scene, most notably due to the bouncy and folkish duet “Home,” which really showcased the feel of the two main singers, Alexander Ebert and Jade Castrinos.  The  sixth song on their first album, Up From Below, “Home” is undoubtedly a favorite of mine, although after a good number of listens the first two tracks, “40 Day Dream” and “Janglin” certainly became contenders for the title of best song on the album (For those interested, here is a pretty awesome remix of Home by RAC).

Ebert and Castrinos
Alexander Ebert and Jade Castrinos

The feel of Up From Below definitely came as a surprise; for those who don’t know, Alex Ebert was (and apparently still is as Another Man’s Treasure was released about a year and a half ago) the lead singer for the incredibly poppy and electronic rock group Ima Robot.  ”Home” is quite different from “Dynomite,” one of Ima Robot’s most recognizable songs.  Personally, I am a fan of the change, and I doubt that I am alone in that opinion.

The reason for the change in style, lyricism, and the emotive quality of the music may be attributed to Ebert’s apparent sobriety and departure from the party lifestyle of Los Angeles, his birthplace and primary stomping grounds.  A couple of years prior to Up From Below Ebert is rumored to have spent time in a couple of rehabilitation centers for drug addiction, an experience that was apparently largely transformative and eye opening.  Ebert references his drug use in a couple of his songs, most notably “Up From Below,” in which he croons that “all the drugs they drive me down/Oh, killing light, killing sound.”

Up From Below
Up From Below

During his time away from home, during which he faced his drug problem and healed from the break-up which came at the same time, Ebert reports that he then created his alter ego, Edward Sharpe, a messianic figure and the lead singer for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.  In an interview with Scott McDonald, a journalist for a San Diego based news website, Sdnn.com, Ebert spoke about Sharpe, saying ”I don’t want to put too much weight on it, because in some ways it’s just a name that I came up with. But I guess if I look deeper, I do feel like I had lost my identity in general. I really didn’t know what was going on or who I was anymore. Adopting another name helped me open up an avenue to get back.” Thus, in a way, Ebert found purpose and identity in Sharpe, a purpose which assuredly led to much of the music and lyrics to be found on Up from Below.

According to Ebert, Edward Sharpe “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind, but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.”  Fortunately for us, Ebert/Sharpe was distracted by another love, Jade Castrinos, whom Ebert dated for a short time and now is one of the more vocally prominent members of The Magnetic Zeros.  Although Ebert/Sharpe seems to consider love to be almost as debilitating as drug addiction, it, and Jade in particular, recurs as a theme on Up From Below in songs such as “40 Day Dream,” “Home,” “Simplest Love,” and a song named after the female singer of the group.

Since Up from Below and the release of Ima Robot’s most recent album, Another Man’s Treasure, Ebert released in March 2011 an eponymous album, Alexander, under the label Community Records on which Ebert himself plays every instrument.  Given 2.5/5 stars by Rolling Stone and a 5.9/10 by Pitchfork Media, the album certainly doesn’t have the same strength as Up from Below.  Rolling Stone considered Ebert’s “dream-catcher naiveté” of the album to be genuine, but “also kind of annoying.”

Alexander: Alex Ebert's eponymous ablum
Alexander: Alex Ebert's eponymous ablum

Although I would not personally say that I hate the album, I would also not say that I love it.  “Glimpses,” “Truth,” and “Bad Bad Love” are among my favorites on the album; unfortunately many of the other tracks are not exactly memorable in either a positive or negative light.  After listening to the album on a couple of different occasions I can’t say that I would care to listen to it again, preferring instead to focus on my three favorite songs rather than the entire album, or simply to pass over it in favor of Up From Below.

Now that we are all up to date on the creative endeavors of Alex Ebert, it is time to move onto the real news:

Today the band officially released their second album, Here through the same record labels (Vagrant Records and Rough Trade Records) as their first.  Prefaced by the release of three singles from the album, “That’s What’s Up,” “One Love to Another,” and “Man on Fire,” Here is finally available in its entirety on both their website, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros Official Website and on iTunes.  Here is the track-list of Here:

1. Man on Fire

2. That’s What’s Up

3. I Don’t Wanna Pray

4. Mayla

5. Dear Believer

6. Child

7. One Love to Another

8. Fiya Wata

9. All Wash Out

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros' second album, Here
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros' second album, Here

The album opens slow with Ebert’s reedy voice on “Man on Fire” backed by choral vocals, a simple drum beat, and jangling instrumentals reminiscent of the first album and indeed the majority of his work.  He identifies himself and states his purpose from the get-go: “I’m a man on fire/Walking through your street/With one guitar and two dancing feet” with “Only one desire” that is to have “the whole damn world to come dance with [him].”

With “That’s What’s Up” Ebert and Castinos return with a duet about love, with lyrics such as “You be the bird, I’ll be the feather/We’ll be the best of friends forever/Well I was feeling such a mess, I though you’d leave me behind/When I was feeling such a wreck, I thought you’d treat me unkind” and “Forever you’ve got my love to lean on darling/For all of our days.” Although they seem to be singing to each other as in “Home,” the lyrics could be interpreted as an epistle of love to their fans, as without one another neither the band nor their audience could exist.  Here love is seemingly more of a communal feeling, riding off of the neo-hippy wave that began with Up from Below and continues with the second album.

Next up, “I Don’t Wanna Pray” begins with a call and repeat of the following lines: “I love my god, god made love/I love my god, god made hate/I love my god, god made good/I love my god, god made bad/I love my god, god made me.”  After a moment of silence to let this sink in, the song picks up some speed, with Ebert’s claim “But I don’t wanna pray to my maker,” preferring instead to “be feelin’ free” and “to become not the pray-er but the prayer.”  A message of action, it seems as if Ebert/Sharpe has moved away from mulling over his past and from asking for help and sympathy in favor of giving love freely and offering a helping hand much as people once did for him.

The album returns to a meandering pace, soothing listeners with the love song “Mayla,” the epistolary “Dear Believer,” and the poetry of “Child.”  In “Dear Believer” we find more purpose as Ebert claims “Reaching for heaven is what I’m on Earth to do” following his claim that “anger, anger, you’re finally my bitch” and his affirmation that “paradise has its hard time” which implies that even the spiritually sound and enlightened struggle sometimes.  Here the lyricism of Ebert and the Magnetic Zeros is at its best, consoling and guiding their fans toward calm and potentially the apparent transformation that they have gone through.  Ebert lets us know that anger and hate are conquerable and that apparently simply “reaching for heaven” is all one needs to do in order to be victorious in such a battle.

“One Love to Another” takes the tempo even further down, seeping with a reggae feel that even seems to give a Marley-esque tone to Ebert’s voice.  The majority of the song is a repetition of the chorus “One love, one love, one love to another/One love to another, one love to discover,” making the message of the song pretty easily identifiable.  Toward the middle of the song, however, the choral vocals warn the listener that, among destitution and revolution, learning how to love is “a hard time.”  To ensure that such a statement is not interpreted as melancholic, but simply realistic, the next verse replaces “a hard time” with “a good time,” serving to elucidate the dichotomous relationship of joy and pain that love and loving can bring.

As the album winds down, we get a taste of what Jade Castrinos’ rumored upcoming solo project would be like as she makes her debut as the lead vocalist on “Fiya Wata.”  Singing once more about love and the “flowing river,” Jade belts with her powerful voice, backed by Zeppelin-like harmonica and hard rock guitar soloing and a muted riff.  I would say that this is the one song on the album where the music outweighs the lyrics, which is not to say that the music on the other tracks isn’t fantastic, but simply that the lyrics on “Fiya Wata” are not as memorable, nor as decipherable as Castrinos’ timbre muddles some of the phrasing.  Even though this is a problem, the song is great and proves that even if you can’t understand what Castrinos is saying it still sounds good.

The album concludes with “All Wash Out,” returning to the soothing quality of the majority of the album after the brief foray into a heavier rock vibe.  Backed by lilting piano, rain-like white noise, and an occasional imitation of thunder seemingly created by distorted drums, Ebert reaffirms that “love, love is something that I believe in,” and also repeating the same phrase speaking about freedom instead of love.  It ends much as “Man on Fire” and the album begins, with low hums and a simple guitar.

Overall, I consider Here to be a pretty great album.  Although much slower than Up From Below with very little of the driving quality of songs such as “Janglin” and “40 Day Dream,” Here is beautiful, calming, and overall rather inspirational.  Its spiritual qualities are not intrusive, but rather inviting and assuring.  Ebert asks us from the beginning to “come dance” as he believes that he has found a route to love and happiness that is simple and enjoyable.  ‘All you have to do is reach for paradise and you can achieve it’ seems to be the primary message encapsulated by the loving and lovable tracks of the album.  Sometimes criticized for not having any true purpose behind the opacity of their first album, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros delivers with their second album; the title seems to be their way of saying “You wanted a message, some direction? Here you go.  Here.”

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