Spontaneous, unattached and raw, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes have pushed their third record out the door just over a year after their sophomore effort Here was released. Produced by ringleader Alex Ebert this time around, the self-titled third falls short of previous releases but nonetheless offers several transcendent moments of music.
“I’ve seen better days, dripping down your face. We don’t have to talk, let’s dance,” invites Ebert in the opening moments of first track ‘Better Days’. He sings of embracing tomorrow, forgetting yesterday and living in the now – a story we’ve heard before from the mix-matched troupe of Southern charmers. A lack of lyrical originality however is a musical shortcoming I find easy to forgive – especially when the rhythm gets your toes tapping. For an album branded as over-produced by other critics, the raw imperfections so beloved in the debut can still be heard here in the mix. An organic, earthy sound permeates throughout, as though recording took place in woods or caves. The choral backing vocals still sound full and indigenous, Jade Castrinos’ husky voice beaming from the foreground over military drums and intricate bass – this is a band riding a wave of confidence.
At their best, the Magnetic Zeroes reach into the ether and bring down something of inspirational peace and beauty – an ability that certainly helps cement the band’s cult-like status amongst followers. Deriving much influence from gospel and country, ‘Please!’ in one such tune, resounding the tranquillity of ‘Mayla’ from 2012’s Here. Ebert achieves a wailing falsetto, sustaining impressive and emotive highs over the band’s humming harmonies. It’s a great sound for the band, cut back enough to showcase Ebert’s sentiment and the power of Castrinos’ vocals when given the lead.
While the Magnetic Zeroes are most loved for their cutesy, jingle tunes such as ‘Home’ and ‘Janglin’, their strongest moments are weighted around the album’s ballads. Album closer ‘This Life’ is an explosive high point, a song that sees Ebert digging deep at his demons and bearing his soul. Whether his pre-Zeroes drug abuse inspired the lyrics I can’t say, but the results are genuinely heart felt. “Well I walked into black, said I weren't coming back. Saw my angel in blue, she tell me ‘this life ain't for you’”, sings Ebert holding in tears. Cooing like Eddie Vedder, Ebert’s voice is pushed right to its limits over Jade’s backing vocals – a spine-tingling sound to behold.
Not surprisingly, the Zeroes’ self-titled album yields little in the way of surprises. With barnyard romps, tribal rhythms and twangy guitars, this is a band confident and comfortable in their ways and content to stay within their comfort zone. At 13 songs however, I feel a few cuts to the album could have made for a stronger result – especially since previous album Here made a stronger impression with just nine. It’s not their best release by quite a margin but that speaks more for the strength of previous albums than a weakness in the band’s latest offering – I only hope they haven’t peaked early.