Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros is the self-titled third full-length album from the 10-person folk rock group. It’s fitting that the group’s third album is self-titled, since it emits a level of musical maturity that signals that they’ve finally found their authentic stride. Their super popular debut album, Up From Below, was filled with songs that were heard all over the radio and in commercials, movies, and just about everywhere one looked. Yet Up From Below felt forced, as if the group jumped onto the folk revival bandwagon late and inserted as many trending characteristics as they could. The same level of mass consumption didn’t occur with the second album, Here, but it nevertheless catered to a fan base eager to hear catchy choruses and jangling folk-rock melodies. With Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the group has merged catchy hooks with natural sounding music composition. The songs don’t feel contrived. Sure, the album still carries a dose of pretentiousness that the group will never be able to shake. However, frontman Alex Ebert feels more at home here, embracing the rawness and eclectic range of influences and tones, and the band is able to follow suit, creating what may end up being one of the best albums of the year.
After a bluesy opening tune, “Better Days” (also the first single), that one could easily find on a Dr. Dog album, the album kicks right into full hippie-hipster throttle with “Let’s Get High.” It is blatant call to bring out your blunts, as Ebert shouts “let’s get high!” to start the song, and it then unravels into a Beatles-inspired community anthem about being “high on love.” I can easily foresee this song becoming a particularly popular backdrop for the concert-going crowds to light up and kick back to, if not get up and dance/frolic to. I can also foresee it playing in a pot-smoking montage in a Seth Rogen film. For better or worse, “Let’s Get High” is also six minutes long and gets a bit masturbatory near the end.
Love is a constant theme in this album and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros love to express it through characteristics best described (possibly) as ‘gospel folk’. “Please!” and “Life is Hard” are both great examples. Each song places heavy emphasis on choral embellishments. They elevate the music to a beautiful serenity — one which seems strangely appropriate given the hazy religious imagery Ebert is consistently evoking. The gospel choir inclusions reache a pinnacle in the final song of the album, “The Life.” The song borrows some elements from Jenny Lewis’ “Acid Tongue,” with “This Life” being a bit more confessional (complete with Ebert’s soft moping sounds), and less of “Acid Tongue’s” empowering sense of honesty and realization. It’s still moving and an appropriately powerful finish.
The strongest track comes in the form of the second to last song, “Remember to Remember,” sung by the band’s other lead vocalist, Jade Castrinos. Castrinos pours her soul out in this somber yet hopeful tale of belonging, as she crows “We belong to the water / we belong to the air / We belong where there is love.” The song abruptly ends with the lines, “We’ll ride the tides / the waters wide (so wild) / calm the troubled water”, invoking our sense of bewilderment as we ponder how to become fully, and truly, present in this world. All of this may sound sappily free-spirited, but one of the most powerful aspects of the album is its compelling ability to make you think freely. Songs will begin grounded with Ebert spouting out a plethora of spiritual and seemingly nonsensical images, but quickly the songs elevate to wondrous heights, Ebert’s voice rising above the crescendos and begging you to expand your mind.