Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros Here
A parade of bacchanalian flower-pop that made The Polyphonic Spree seem only mildly indebted to the ’60s by comparison, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros’ 2009 debut Up From Below didn’t skimp on bright, festive crowd-pleasers. One outlier outshone them all, though. An homage to Johnny Cash and June Carter’s merry duets, “Home” gave backing singer Jade Castrinos her lone spotlight turn, and her beguiling, sweetly haggard voice upstaged everything else on the album. Given the response to that song, which became Up From Below’s most-licensed track—no small feat on an album that seemed to subscribe to Moby’s Play school of rubber-stamping any and all placement requests—it’s no surprise that Castrinos gets higher billing on the band’s follow-up album, Here. She now sings nearly as much as band leader Alex Ebert, and she takes the lead on two of the record’s feistiest songs, the country clap-along “That’s What’s Up” and the Janis Joplin-channeling classic-rock jam “Fiya Wata.”
Castrinos’ increased presence is a smart concession to fan tastes, but it’s just about the only one. In nearly every other regard, Here is either oblivious to or unconcerned with what listeners want from a Magnetic Zeros album. Trading the patchouli- and Prozac-soaked euphoria of his band’s debut for the subdued contemplation of ’70s songwriter records, Ebert breaks from his cocksure “Edward Sharpe” persona for a very un-messiah-like cycle of songs questioning his own faith. That soul-searching wouldn’t be such a buzzkill if the songs’ arrangements were at all uplifting, but for all its instrumentation, Here never attempts the Arcade Fire-esque sweep and spectacle of Up From Below, and the clumsy self-production does the album no favors. At its best, the mix never quite pops the way it should; at its worst, it’s as muffled as a third-generation cassette dub. That’s especially true of the Bob Marley-aping inspirational “One Love To Another,” which plays like a demo mixed using GarageBand’s cheesiest reggae presets.
Ebert has planned Here to be the first of two Magnetic Zeros albums in 2012, hinting that the next one will be the more celebratory of the two. It would almost have to be, because whether due to spiritual crisis, the demands of life on the road, or sheer creative draught, he sounds absolutely defeated on this short, non-starter of a record.