Album review: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros get by on a song and a prayer on ‘Here’
From a distance, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros could be mistaken for a musically-inclined cult.
Alex Ebert would be their leader, usually dressed in white, with his unkempt hair and tendency to go without shoes or even a shirt during shows. Cue in the 11 other members with their instruments in tow, and you’re set.
When Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came out of the gate in 2009, the band permeated college and indie airwaves with “Home” and inspired audiences with stomps and sing-alongs on tour. Three years later, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are back, and more chilled out than before. Alex Ebert and his crew, 12 of them altogether, seem to embrace their own sort of semi-psychedelic brand of Americana on “Here.”
The album begins with “Man on Fire,” a declaration made by Ebert, for “the whole damn world to come dance with me.” With echoing background “oohs” and “hmms,” the song sounds fitting for an evening walk in the desert that ends in a jubilee. The juxtaposition of vocal choreography, percussion and a few finger snaps stands out prominently on “Man on Fire,” giving the song a rich texture. “Man on Fire” is the kind of song that is done well with so many members, save for the unfavorable usage of a didgeridoo.
Listeners who resonated with the charms and vocal cooing between Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos will more than likely enjoy the workings of “That’s What’s Up,” a track that doesn’t disappoint in regards to vocal back and forth banter from Ebert to Castrinos. The song’s twangy, distorted guitar and rhyming verse — “I’ll be the church, you be the steeple/You be the King, I’ll be the people” — accompanied by a steady kick drum seems as though it could be found among tracks on a country hymnal record from the ’70s.
But it’s during the last chorus and outro that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros go from hippie folk-rock sect to church choir, abandoning all instruments but 24 hands clapping, while Castrinos sings with conviction, “Love, it is our honor/Love, it is our call/Love goes on forever/Yeah, love it is our home.”
”I Don’t Wanna Pray” is a sonic charmer with all of the band’s endearing musical signatures: appropriate tambourine use (but not abuse), claimable beats and choruses oft sung by the whole gang, with Ebert and Castrinos pushed to the front.
Armed with a banjo and soft vocals, Ebert and company sing, “I love my God/God made love” — not to mention hate, good, man and the singers themselves. After a tranquil half-minute, the almost meditative devotional introduction turns rambunctious with the addition of playful tambourine taps, drumstick clacks and Ebert’s pleasantly defiant “I don’t wanna pray to my maker/I just wanna be what I see.” He’s “looking to become not the pray-er, but the prayer.” The composition of “I Don’t Wanna Pray” may be simplistic, but it works if for no reason other than the fact that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have never insisted on making overly complicated music.
Castrinos steps up to the front, showcasing her vocals as a centerpiece on “Fiya Wata,” the most amplified song on the album. Her vocals are rich, raspy and soulful as she sings about “Lettin’ that love blaze/like fire!” with a tone that rings near to that of Janis Joplin, though not as throaty. As powerful as her voice is, the track feels out of place within the context of the other songs on “Here.” Regardless, “Fiya Wata” is a showcase for Seth Ford-Young’s bass skills, as well as Aaron Arntz’s piano contributions and Josh Collazo’s drumming.
In its entirety, “Here” could almost be seen as a motley collection of hymns, if even only in a superficial sense with songs titled “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” “Dear Believer” and “Man on Fire.” It wouldn’t be a hymnal found in a church pew, but its makers are sure to attract a flock of new listeners wherever they go.