In the few years since unleashing a superb debut, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, the Californian collective of utopian melody makers, have emerged as an even tighter unit. On their winning sophomore album, Here, the band gives us a spiritually rich album that celebrates the beautiful unknown of creation and the willingness to open oneself up to good, bad and each other. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros may be derided now and again as a naive, love-in hippie band with a retro obsession for all things Woodstock, but there is no fronting in their music or their approach. They have come Up From Below to rise to Here, and they’re sharing their journey and stories looking for friends, not converts.
Here opens with “Man on Fire,” a number that starts simply but evocatively with Alexander Ebert inhabiting the aura of The Man in Black marching solo into a Wild West town with one guitar strapped to his back, singing his drifter mantra, “Everybody wants certain love, everybody but me. I’m a man on fire.” By the time the whole band erupts into an outdoor saloon jamboree that wouldn’t have been misplaced on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, he’s singing, “I want the whole damn world to come dance with me.” “Man on Fire” proves early that there’s little doubt Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros can bring their live energy to a studio album (even one that has been characterized elsewhere as a stripped-down affair lacking in definitive standout songs). “Man on Fire” may not be Here’s most instantly memorable song, but it has the power to transport you as high as classics “40 Day Dream” and “Home” did on Up From Below.
“That’s What’s Up,” the song that does happen to be the most instantly memorable song on Here, has the clap-along duet trappings of Emmylou and Gram Parsons or Johnny and June face-to-face over one mic singing, “You’ve got my love to lean on, darling, all our days” until the band stomps in like they’re recording in Big Pink, and Jade Castrinos brings down the house with an all-out gospel revival, boldly offering up a showstopping lead for the first recorded time in the band’s still young career.
The revival carries over to the jug band stomp frenzy “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” which rallies around the verse “I don’t wanna pray. I’m looking to become not the pray-er but the prayer,” and poignantly finishes up with the proclamation, “I love my God; God made good. I love my God; God made bad. I love my God; God made me.”
“Mayla” slow-burns on full-band humming and harmonies and is colored by mesmerizing orchestration comprised of subtle percussion, a xylophone, chimes and elegant guitar flourishes that bring the feel of a starlight cleansing in the company of dear friends.
The elegant intimacy of “Mayla” segues into “Dear Believer,” where Ebert croons “reaching for Heaven is what I’m on Earth to do” as he’s flanked by Castrinos. A full brass section roars to life and balloons the bridge into the midnight skies, while an expertly placed organ threatens to steal the song on deeper listens.
“Child” is the third deceptively quiet tune in the midsection of the album (a midsection that has casually been classified as a forgettable stretch of throwaway songs in other publication’s reviews – a dismissal that I think will be blatantly inaccurate as Here gets legs and wins hearts in the months and years to come). It’s an achingly beautiful strummer that sounds like an acoustic Ebert solo number, and it truly is stripped down to its bare bones in the production. Where others may classify it as a throwaway with lazy production, I argue the haunting delivery and restrained production do what stellar production should do – it serves the song without apologies. That purpose is the crux of every choice Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros make on Here. You can’t fault people for desiring a barn-burning anthem now and again or craving a slick production veneer, but Here is the sound of an unabashedly loving collective of friends pouring their hearts out into sublime harmonies intimately captured with the hopes of taking everybody (band and audience) to higher ground. The playing and the recording achieve that very mission.
“One Love To Another” is a catchy and instantly memorable reggae-infused tune that echoes the highest marks of Bob Marley’s legacy. Its lyrics add little you’ve never heard in a great reggae jam before, but reggae and community are about bringing the masses together, and that mission is achieved with a simple, common message converted into a melodic rallying cry.
Jade unleashes a thundering, Janis-like vocal on “Fiya Wata,” a splendid rock tune soaked in bluesy leads and thick, Southern atmosphere, sounding like an inspired lost classic from side four of Exile on Main St. The song is an instant highlight on an album stuffed with rewarding growers.
Ebert steps to the forefront again on “All Wash Out” to sing the beautifully frail lead over a gentle guitar line as he sings, “love is something to believe in.” It sounds like a shoreline lullaby or a funeral on the water before thunder rages in during the bridge. After the thunder dissipates, Ebert eases us back towards serene waters under a golden dusk to close out the album.
On Here, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros have scaled back the production to that of an open air celebration of faith in the immediate world and love of your fellow man. Few bands have looked so deeply inward to write gems with such magnificently outward appeal. They have upped the ante by creating a communal testament of oneness, love and faith in music so pure it’s nearly subversive in today’s perversely ironic and cynical download age. In a recent interview, drummer Orpheo McCord told me Here is a ‘mellow album that can perfectly ring in the summer.” He’s spot-on in his take, but he left out a few indispensable descriptors of this exceptional sophomore album: jubilant and revelatory.