60s, Alex Ebert, Edward Sharpe, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, folk, folk rock, indie, indie folk, Lumineers, MOR, Mumford & Sons, music, music review, psychedelic rock, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Beach Boys, The Lumineers, Urban Outfitters
For a while, when people spoke derisively of the recent folk-rock trend, they were going to mention “Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe,” based on the success of the latter’s single “Home,” rather than what people are saying now – “Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers.” But that was not to be, perhaps partially because Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros is an annoyingly long name for a band in a supposedly, at least on paper, a pretension-spurning genre, but mostly because their music isn’t exciting enough to warrant mainstream attention, which is saying something given the music produced by their peers. While their first album did have some memorable hooks, they followed it up with an entirely forgettable album that extinguished any promise they had of crossing over. Now, on their self-titled third album, they’ve decided to spice up their usual folk format with some instrumentation reminiscent of late 60’s roots rock – or rather, what bands like Wilco and My Morning Jacket have made that out to be. A copy of a copy ending up more like the soundtrack of an Urban Outfitters rather than the Mississippi music festival they aspire to, the indie folk also -rans have yet again gifted the world with an unmemorable batch of songs that will likely just barely miss ending up on your college radio stations new music playlist.
The problem with indie folk in the last couple years is its totally sincere lack of irony, but the bands in the genre have totally misplaced their sincerity in sentiments that are overdone, overwrought, and ultimately meaningless. This is especially true of Edward Sharpe, to the point of being just silly. Their appropriation of elements of hippie culture, like on the heavy-handed acid track “Let’s Get High,” comes off like a lot of scene chasers from the 60s like Strawberry Alarm Clock. It’s catchy enough, and the joy the band gets out of doing what they do is palpable, but the production is sloppy and exhausting, the arrangement is half-baked, and the lyrics, where they could have been a charming novelty, fall flat, an embarrassing testament to songwriter Alex Ebert’s lack of depth. Where the band shines tends to be in their anthemic, shout-along-chorus numbers like the first track “Better Days,” which, while the backing oh’s sound lazy, and the mix is way too loud and overheated, the buildup makes for a pleasant payoff and a not totally degrading listening experience. But those moments of sweetness are far and few between, overshadowed by long stretches which aren’t necessarily bad, just very dull. Everything between “Let’s Get High,” only somewhat memorable for its quaintness, and “In The Summer” are totally inconsequential. The lyrics are all throwaways, the melodies are weak and caramel, and the production is poor. “In The Summer” has kind of funky feel reminiscent of psychedelic soul as found on The Beach Boys’ Wild Honey. If Edward Sharpe succeeds anywhere, it’s here, but the production is still pretty lame. The rest of the album we’re treated to some half-hearted filler until the album just withers and fades on the bumbling “Milton.”
MOR radio’s current infatuation with vaguely roots music won’t last forever, likely going the way of third-wave ska in the next few years, and Edward Sharpe squanders their association with the zeitgeist through sheer lack of effort and an underdeveloped sense of appreciation for the past. There are a few spots where it’s a nice listen, but none of this album is really worthy of even being background music, and like the genre itself, it’s 80% filler, bolstered by what Mr. Mumford might call “heart.” Unfortunately, that does not good music make, and it is far from a redeeming quality on this album.
Recommended Tracks: Better Days, Let’s Get High, In The Summer