California 10-piece Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros somehow embodies the ultimate modern-hippie stereotype while still exuding a refreshing authenticity. The mostly bearded men and long-haired women in the folksy collective unabashedly don their retro influences (think floral prints, scarves, feathers and floppy hats) while performing, and their live show truly encapsulates the uninhibited, collaborative celebration of music.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the band’s third album sounds so restrained. Ringleader Alex Ebert produced the album and sonically, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros feels slick and compressed. The jangly guitars, playful percussion and strange psychedelic feedback that zoomed across headphones in stereo on the band’s 2009 debut Up From Below aren’t necessarily absent on this record, but they’re certainly buried in the production. Particularly, the end of the album feels like a depository for mellow ballads, during which Ebert’s singing veers closer to a low-voiced drone.
The self-titled record is not all polished constraint though. Ebert’s blinding optimism shines on the three-peat “Let’s Get High,” “Two” and “Please!” each following its predecessor’s quirky cheer. “Country Calling,” a tune about leaving Los Angeles, plays up the raucousness through sporadic guitar fills and comical, Beatles-esque sound effects. Even “If I Were Free,” which would actually feel appropriate on the The Lion King soundtrack, brings a romping fun to the record.
The album kicker, however, the song that seems to both defend and capitulate to these sonic choices, is the candidly conciliatory “Life Is Hard.” As Ebert earnestly beckons, “come celebrate, life is hard,” it’s difficult not to want to join him and his merry pranksters, at least on part of this record.