Album Review

Here

Here

By Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

Vagrant / Community Music
6.5 / 10
11th July 2012

By Chris Jamieson

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' recent collaboration with the Flaming Lips-- an understated folk hymn with not-so-understated title of "Helping the Retarded to Know God"-- concludes with a two-minute coda wherein Wayne Coyne repeats the words, "I am trying/ To know you," with increasing desperation at each pass. The song's title suggests Coyne is singing to the man upstairs, but he could very well be directing that line at Sharpe-- i.e., the born-again alias/alter ego of L.A. music-scene lifer Alex Ebert.

No doubt, Ebert has given sceptics plenty of reason to question his motives and identity, given his transformation from the asymmetrical-haircutted front-man of early-2000s dance-punk troupe Ima Robot into the hirsute, hippy leader of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who arrived in 2009 packaged in a faux-religious-cult gambit. But while Ebert had assumed a new character, its personality was nonetheless vague: The Zeros' debut album, Up From Below, saw Ebert rifling through various guises and voices-- country-politan crooner ("Carries On"), flower-child folkie ("Jade"), Arcade Fired-up preacher-man ("40 Day Dream"), hysterical Spanish spaghetti-western shrieker ("Kisses Over Babylon"). You can't begrudge an artist's right to reinvent himself, but Ebert's transformation into Edward had the effect of feeling both calculated and noncommittal at the same time.

From the get-go, Here foregrounds the messianic qualities of the Sharpe persona, with nine songs centred thematically around god, church, and various all-you-need-is-love platitudes; the Johnny Cash-copping opening track introduces Ebert as a "Man on Fire" who wants the "whole damn world to come dance with me," while "Dear Believer" not so modestly declares "reaching for heaven is what I'm on Earth to do." But rather than push Ebert and co. to more ridiculous degrees of theatrical religiosity, Here is a surprisingly humble, homespun affair. In contrast to the band's debut, Here sounds more genuinely like the sort of mellowed-out roots-rock record that you'd expect from a dance-punk burnout looking to sober up and simplify.

Thankfully a good 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor, Here is an album that gets by on casual, low-key charm rather than showboating gestures; though the Magnetic Zeros' membership numbers into the double digits, a good deal of this album sounds like it could've been recorded by a lone foot-stomping folksinger, carrying over the intimate, around-the-kitchen-table ambience of Ebert's 2011 solo release, Alexander. The wood-cabin-cosy production is especially beneficial to the most lightweight material; where the island accents of "One Love to Another" threaten to degenerate into cod-reggae caricature; the song's luminous, playful presentation makes it sound rather uncanny. And even the songs that make use of the full ensemble do so in subtle, tasteful fashion, as exemplified by the dewy electric-guitar droplets, distant choral harmonies, and soothing brass fanfares that colour the day-dreamy centrepiece "Mayla".

Most significantly, Ebert sounds much more relaxed, less affected here as a vocalist, settling into a pleasing, conversational tone that cheekily deflates the pomp inherent to his adopted persona from "Dear Believer" - "The world's gettin' heavy on my shoulders as a child/ But I let it all go to my waist". But this evolution does come at the expense of his more feisty foil Jade Castrinos; where she served as the grounding influence to Ebert's unrestrained whimsy on Up From Below, on Here, her excitable solo turns on the honky-gospel hoedown "That's What's Up" and the histrionic southern-rock wailer "Fiya Wata" sound too in-your-face and out of place amid Here's laidback, sun-stroked vibe. Here may constitute the next chapter in the ever-evolving mythology of Edward Sharpe, but really, it's more effective as a means of getting to know Alex Ebert.






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