Ed Sharpe Isn’t All ‘Here’

The first experience I had with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was at San Francisco’s Treasure Island Music Festival back in 2009.

“Holy shit,” I exclaimed to my compatriot as I watched the extravagant band of hippies dance around the stage, swaying back in forth in utter bliss. “They’re all so fucking high.” Alex Ebert’s tattered white suit removed itself as the set went on, and Jade Castrinos’ bashful joy was only outshined by trumpeter Stewart Cole’s energy and bright green pants.

Later on, I chanced a passing interaction with Cole, his arms hooked around two beautiful women a few inches taller than himself.

“Nice pants,” I said to him.

“Thanks,” Cole replied.

The images of Cole’s kelly green jeans, Ebert’s tattered white suit and Castrinos’ trench coat dominated my perception of the group, this orgiastic band of free-loving eccentrics. But their album from that year, “Up From Below,” hit the mainstream hard with catch pop sentimentalities in “40 Day Dream” and “Janglin,” which got featured in various commercial outlets and made their way into more than one soundtrack. It was thus difficult for me to commiserate my memory of Ebert hopping, head down, beckoning the San Francisco crowd to chant “Om Nashi Me,” with the car commercials and TV shows on which his songs appeared.

Ed Sharpe, the messianic alter ego that Ebert made up for himself after his recovery from a massive drug addiction in LA, returns with his Magnetic Zeroes on their second LP, “Here.” While they still embrace their own brand of hippiedom, Ed and the Zeros have marked a significant change. Gone are the sweet pop melodies and mm-bops from songs like “Janglin,” replaced by banjo and acoustic guitar picking.

“Here” is much quieter than “Up From Below,” and much shorter, too. Just short of 38 minutes, the nine tracks of “Here” lose almost 20 minutes compared to its predecessor. Combining simple arrangements and simple, almost ambient recordings, the album is more a session inside a clearing with the Zeros than an actual album. Whereas their first album was much more bombastic and dynamic, “Here” takes a backseat quietude; these songs, mostly understated and relatively simple, belong more in the background of a southern wedding.

The use of acoustic guitar most adequately represents the album’s delicacy; of nine tracks, four start with an acoustic guitar intro. The single, “Man on Fire,” somewhat hushes the start of the album, though the tune does pick up. “That’s What’s Up,” the second track, gets at somewhat of a folk worship, but not necessarily a religious one. At the handclap breakdown, Costrinos belts, “Love is a shelter, / love is a cause, / love goes on forever / love will lead us all.”

“I Don’t Wanna Pray” also touches on this bit of irony. Also constructed like a church spiritual, lyrics like “But I don’t want to pray to my maker, / I just want to be what I see, / Not just who I am but the pink and darling man” embody a distinct nonreligious, humanist message.

“Here” as an album name seems ironic as well, mostly because the album isn’t particularly present. Though each tune is good, the lack of real variety in instrumentation and general docility of tone doom the album to a background position. It’s a shame, because the songs are so good –– the end result is that only a few of the tracks really stand out, but most of the tracks fall short of notoriety and thus seem like throw-away jams meant to fill the space. (The album’s concise nature does not help this conclusion.)

That being said, those few tracks that do stand out end up being gems. Though they have forgotten the cloyingly sweet pop chirps of “Janglin” and the spaced out, airy riffs on “Desert Song” off their previous album, a touch of soul helps this album come alive, if only a little bit.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5