For those of you who may be new to Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, let’s clarify something before talking about their new release Here: Edward Sharpe isn’t real. He’s a hippified messiah-type, a character created by lead vocalist Alex Ebert, sort of as a way of dealing with his own demons. The band that formed around this character, then, could arguably be considered his…um…nine or so “disciples.” The end result was a band that acted more like a hippie musical troupe than a band, going around the country in a white school bus with their traveling indie-folk, gospel-ly hootenanny.
The thing, this off-center, hippie-messiah-gospel thing has struck a nerve with a lot of folks who have been energized by the band’s contagious, exuberant vibe. The band’s debut album Up from Below peaked at a respectable #76 on the Billboard 200, and Edward Sharpe and the Disciples (er, Magnetic Zeroes) started selling out their shows. With the band’s sophomore release Here, the hootenanny is set to continue, albeit at a slightly reduced level of exuberance.
Let’s face it: a group of hippies can only dance and sing around a bonfire for so long before they (and the bonfire) start to get tired. Then the songs stop being so foot-stompy, and they start being a little more reflective. That’s probably the best way to describe Here: the bonfire is slowly turning to embers, and we’re starting to sit down and think about life a little bit more. The album kicks off close to a full burn with “Man on Fire,” and slowly but surely dwindles to a smolder with the closing track “All Wash Out.” The feel-good vibe is still prevalent throughout the album, but the emotions run perhaps just a little deeper.
This isn’t to say this album isn’t as good as the last; performance-wise, it lives up to the first record, and then some. Fans of Edward Sharpe won’t be disappointed; in fact, they’re likely to see Here as a natural follow-up to Up from Below, even representing a maturing of the band—which is as it should be.
One thing I should point out is that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes have gratefully not allowed their new-found success to alter the raw, organic vibe that initially made us fans. While some bands take an increased budget and over-produce their next record, this record is self-produced by the band, and delightfully unpolished. All told, Here is a near-perfect continuation of the journey begun a couple of years ago—and while its energy is not quite as white-hot as the first record, the overall mission of Edward Sharpe remains the same. As he says on the opening track, “Only one desire that’s left in me / I want the whole damn world to come dance with me.”
ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)