Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' wild-eyed and openhearted baroque-tinged hippie folk is precisely the sort to be readily dismissed by those less generous of spirit. The cultish Kumbaya vibe and hopeful tie-dye attitude just rub some the wrong way. But perhaps these naysayers doth protest too much, and this rejection speaks more to something sour in their own soul.
"The human tendency is to guard yourself against pain, and pain tends to come in the gap between expectation and result," says Zeros frontman and founder Alex Ebert. "So after years of hoping for something spectacular to happen, and it not happening, people have tried to make that gap as small as possible until they basically become pessimists. That way you prevent pain, but that's a very cowardly way to live — trying to avoid pain all the time. That's what I say back to that. That's just the way the times are. But I think that it's changing. People are becoming more courageous and less prone to that sort of cowardice."
Of course Ebert isn't talking of his naysayers so much as those who dismiss his pursuit of an ideal world as a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. He understands that it can come off as innocent and naive, but he believes that's the leap we have to make to heal ourselves and our world. (It may be just a coincidence that Ebert passed through a 12-step program between ending snarky onetime-major-label glam-punks Ima Robot and beginning Edward Sharpe.)
Ebert doesn't care — he's already made the leap, and that's the main point of their second album, Here, which bursts with spirituality, less-busy arrangements and an even earthier amble than their first. A choir of voices swells behind strummy opening track "Man on Fire," on which Ebert asks the world to dance with him, acknowledging, "Everybody wants safety, everybody wants comfort, everybody wants certainty but me." He advocates for personal spiritualism while heralding God as creator of both love and hate, expressing an Eastern-flavored dualism on the stomping, back-porch country "I Don't Want To Pray." Later, on the pretty, folk-inflected "Dear Believer" — with its tender echoes of The Beatles' "Blackbird" — Ebert declares, "Reaching for heaven is what I was born to do."
He describes the album's tone as one of "defiance."
"Even in the face of knowing all the uncertainties and 'impossibilities' of a heaven on earth, or hope for any of these sort of 'unrealistic' sentiments and naive sentiments, I wanted to drive home that I'm still sticking with those regardless of whether they ever come to fruition or not," he explains. "It's irrelevant to me, this argument that it's impossible to attain any of these things. That is the definition of courage — doing the impossible in the face of all the knowledge we have."
One might be tempted to draw conclusions from the more measured, rootsy tone of these nine new tracks. Don't. Here is only half the story. A second, freakier album cut from the same sessions is due later this year — an effort Ebert describes as "quite a bit more rambunctious."
"It'd been so long a lot of stuff had built up, and we were ready to go," says Ebert. "We were going all over the place at once and throwing it all into the hat."
They spent six months working up songs — over 40 in all — then recorded several more during additional sessions in Louisiana. When they put it all together, they realized they couldn't release just one album. "We just thought the songs were really great," he says. "And there was a distinct separation between the two sets of them."
Tripling one's recorded output in a single year following a three-year absence is pretty ambitious, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are not ones for half measures. There's still more to be revealed. Which is sort of perfect, because for Ebert, that's really the point.
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