When you’ve lost your voice entirely, news on the work front is going from bad to worse and 9pm starts meaning ‘almost bed time’ to you when it used to mean something utterly, excitingly different, it takes a really good song to pull you out of that funk. Today, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes have pretty much met the criteria. You might well remember Sharpe and his numbers from two and a bit years ago now when, after they released their debut LP ‘Up From Below’ in 2009, breakout single ‘Home’ became the weird crossover success of the year, making whistling cool in a way it hadn’t been since Peter Bjorn and John (no, Flo Rida, you don’t count) and somehow making country-bumpkin vocals and sappy, simple lyrics fashionable. That song’s unprecedented line-dancing quality caught the ear of the NFL which subsequently in a 2010 commercial so that, by the time I made it to Philadelphia last year, it had cemented its reputation as the one ‘indie’ song that most everyone on campus knew. In a musical diet otherwise saturated with Avicii and Pretty Lights, ‘Home’ was a bastion of good, if old-fashioned, music.
Just as ‘Home’ didn’t sit comfortably alongside Pandora playlists full of Girl Talk and Cobra Starship, it doesn’t make much sense in the context of broader listening patterns either. Surely, we’ve had our fair share of rock revivalists. The sound of the 60s and 70s was reborn on our radios and our iPods thanks, in no small part, to the Australian brigade including Tame Impala, Wolfmother, Jet et al. The synth-pop movement of the mid-2000s didn’t too much to hide its roots in the sound of the 80s, either. But while everything that was once old is new again, Edward Sharpe remains steadfastly out-of-left-field with their reimagining of real homestyle country tunes infused occasionally with indie-rock sensibilities. As contemporary country converges on pop (see: Taylor Swift, John Mayer – but not at the same time) and folk does the same (see: Mumford and Sons, more locally Matt Corby), Edward Sharpe is a purveyor of something purer, closer to the source. Sharpe (Alex Ebert) is not trying to dress up his act as some outlandish reappropriation of the folk/country sound but rather, is happy to let the music, unashamedly paying its respects to its forbears, speak for itself.
And speak it does. I don’t know what it is about Ebert that makes him able to pen tunes that border on theme song kitsch but skirt the precipice to remain endearing, anthemic and heartfelt all at the same time. No wait, I do. After sort of hating his first band Ima Robot, breaking up with a long-term girlfriend, moving out of a share-house with his bffl and getting on a 12-step program for a heroin addiction, the only respite came in singing fun, happy songs, giving live performances said to border on hippie cult sessions and rounding up a crazed mix of Krishnas, von Trapps and musical Merry Pranksters to do the whole thing alongside him. I’m thankful for their second record, ‘Here’, dropping today for filling a void left after ‘Home’ – sensational track that it is – became slightly too overplayed for my liking. ‘That’s What’s Up’, in its playful use of relational dichotomies, a bit of Seinfeld-esque slap-bass (1’23″) and some now requisite whistling is what we’ve come to expect from the messianic Sharpe; well-done, unadulterated optimism. Jade Castrinos again shines on vocal duties but it’s her interplay with Ebert, so natural and tangible, that makes the whole thing a joy. The whole thing might have cultish aspects but there’s no doubting this is loving music put together by loving people. How do I join?
Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes – That’s What’s Up