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Album review: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros explore oldies roots, show versatility

Album Cover

The indie rock group whose 2010 single, “Home,” still occupies alt-radio airwaves has crafted an entertaining yet flawed work in its third studio album.
“Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros,” the band’s self-titled album, was released Tuesday, and its release occurs during the Zeros’ summer touring efforts in support of band Mumford and Sons.

The album kicks off with a throwback sound in “Better Days.” It features a catchy, syncopated beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a Black Keys record, and lead vocalist Alex Ebert’s delivery is the track’s strength. The band uses brass instruments, backup vocals and soft guitar strums effectively to occupy sonic space.
Vocal harmonies between Ebert and band mate Jade Castrinos work best in “Two,” an aptly-named duet. Bongo percussion, a subtle bass line and a distant-sounding electric guitar groove start the song, and the band’s retro sound shows nostalgia for decades past.

“Country Calling” is one of the low points of the album. The track features a cracking, raspy vocal performance whose melody is difficult to discern during the verses. It wanders too much, and the song’s inability to tonally or rhythmically commit to a sound dooms it.

“Let’s Get High” isn’t any better.

Being the album’s longest song, the band attempts to pack too many sounds and components into it. The Zeros lack cohesion in the forgettable tune, and the use of a dissonant, psychedelic wall of sound doesn’t work for an upbeat song.
On the other hand, “If I Were Free” is undeniably the album’s home run. A stomping beat carries it, although a fearless choice to halt all percussion for a trickling interlude of piano and guitar just feels right. Influences of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and the Beatles’ later work are evident, and the raw musicianship of an electric guitar solo and vulnerably powerful singing make this tune shine.
The danceable “In The Lion” is simply decent and doesn’t masquerade to be anything that it’s not. It could have been done better, but it is a song that would lend itself to a lively concert experience.
The R&B-infused solo performance of Castrino in “Remember To Remember” is impressively reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. The song’s shuffling tempo works and keeps things mellow.

“Life Is Hard” is another impeccable highlight of the record. Castrinos shines again, and Ebert’s staccato incantations of pure blues make for an enjoyable listen. The song contrasts a triumphant sound with bittersweet lyrics very well.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have put together a good album when they were perhaps trying to make a great one, but the flashes of virtuosity and the diversity of its sound make it worth checking out.

Grade: B

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