Alex Ebert founded Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes after dissolving the band Ima Robot. For anyone familiar with Ima Robot’s dance-emo swagger, Ebert’s decision to reroute his not undeniable millennial angst into a group that makes Fleet Foxes look like crust punks probably seemed ill-informed. But if you’re familiar with the mercantile nature of “major label indie” you might have seen this one coming. I support wild artistic leaps and most, if not all, of my favorite musicians and bands are so-called musical chameleons whose each album may be incomprehensibly different from each other one. And sure, each of these acts has, within their discography, an album I absolutely despise. But you see, for all of Ima Robot’s insufferable Warp Tour posturing there was something fairly genuine about them. Ima Robot’s “Creeps Me Out”, for example, is actually kind of great. It feels honest, at least. Ebert’s Edward Sharpe persona, on the other hand, has the feel of someone cashing in on the genuine (but already fairly insufferable) hippie weirdness of a Devendra Banhart. And so this becomes a meditation on insufferable unoriginality and nostalgic smugness; because where someone like Banhart lives in the margins of his craft, Ebert and co. present naught but superficial bombast. They sing of joy, piety, openness and they attempt to channel the spirit of the ’60s but I do not believe them for one second.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes would probably be a pretty good album if I had never heard any of the albums it so desperately wants to be. That is to say, these songs aren’t any more repulsive than they are engaging. The vocal duet of “Two” makes for some truly pleasant moments, and it could hardly be said that Ebert doesn’t know how to command a horde of capable musicians. But because I have in fact listened to The Beatles the songs on Edward Sharpe feel immediately hollow and pointless. Like the startup tone on my Mac, I am not repelled by a song like “Better Days” but I am not about to actually try to analyze it because doing so would be a struggle against the titans (sorry Eno). Of course, music doesn’t have to be better than The Beatles -or even more daring – to catch my interest; but “no band could ever be better than The Beatles so why even try” should not be the thesis of your recording project. Even if you’re rocking ahappydeal electronics quality keyboard, you can still contribute to music in some measurable quality.
It is far from my place to question Alex Ebert’s artistic integrity or his intention in power sliding from slick, coke glowing electro-pop into an appalachian miasma of “all you need is love” symphonic folk. Well-intended or not, the final product feels very artificial, very heartless, and intenseley overproduced. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is big and beautiful in the empty way that a Trump building is beautiful because it has the components of a version of beauty; because it has paid for beauty. It is gaseous; it is vast and expanding but it has no legitimate mass. Love lives in the dirt and grease of life, and anything – new music especially – that portends to say something about love had better keep its inherent ugliness in mind. Put the 12 PayPal dollars towards the inevitable series of holiday-season speakers online sales, and forget to buy this album.