Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below

January 01, 1970

(Community Records/Fairfax



A Southern
California collective dubbed a “family” by its bearded,
charismatic and somewhat messianic leader… Hmm, wait, haven’t we had one of
those before and didn’t it all end in tears? Unlike frustrated songwriter
Charles Manson, however, Edward Sharpe (aka Alex Ebert, also of Ima Robot) has
unambiguous musical talent and the only tears his family, the maniacally happy
Magnetic Zeros, are likely to induce are tears of joy from their uplifting,
celebratory tunes.

The band’s communal image (its dozen-or-so members even ride, like the Merry
Pranksters, in a converted bus) translates to this debut album: everybody
cheerfully mucks in, seemingly playing anything they can get their hands on,
from ukulele, marimba and viola to trumpet, accordion and good old-fashioned
electric guitar. In the process, Ebert and his cohorts mine a rich, predominantly
late-’60s/early-’70s vein, picking and mixing various flavors of sunny
west-coast psychedelia, folk rock and country rock, the arrangements often
swelling with Spector-sized grandeur. While it’s hardly newsworthy for a band
to draw on such influences, there’s something refreshingly distinctive about
the infectious, eclectic sound that Ebert’s troupe crafts from them.

Up from Below‘s appeal resides largely in its wealth of summery instant
anthems such as the driving, Waterboys-style title track and the exuberant
sing-along, “Janglin’ ” (think: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My
Head” meets “Instant Karma”). Most memorable, though, is
“Carries On,” an epic in the mold of the Brothers Walker and
Righteous — and Ebert’s voice justifies that comparison — which insinuates
itself gradually and then erupts with blissed-out abandon into the choruses.



There’s a gloriously boisterous
looseness to some of these tracks. Take “Home,” for example, on which
Jade Castrinos’ and Ebert’s euphoric refrains alternate with the song’s
Morricone-esque elements. Although you can’t fault this duet for its unbridled,
joyous energy, it’s unfortunately interrupted by a cringe-inducing, lovey-dovey
spoken section that may have cynical listeners reaching for their sick bags. The
Morricone motif is reprised elsewhere: with its spaghetti-western atmospherics
and Ebert’s rather camp Spanish-language performance, “Kisses over Babylon” could be
the theme from an imaginary Sergio Leone movie. And the Italian director even
gets a namecheck on the haunting “Desert Song,” one of the album’s
more straightforward, wide-screen rock numbers. Less straightforward is the
heady video for “Desert Song,” a trippy, oedipal hybrid of Lucifer
and Zabriskie Point — but while the dissolute, whacked-out
end of the ’60s provides much of the inspiration here, Sharpe and the Magnetic
Zeros also channel an earlier, more innocent pop sensibility. That comes across
in the ’50s doo-wop/r&b vibe on the lilting sea shanty, “40 Day Dream,”
and the moodier “Black Water.”



Obviously, a band’s novelty image
can distract and detract from the appreciation of its music — and that’s a
risk run by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who have a lot of fun
flirting with the cosmic family persona, even closing out the record with a
track incorporating a (possibly faux) Buddhist chant (“Om Nashi Me”).
Be that as it may, the strength of their songs is undeniable and irresistible
and, appropriately enough, transcends everything else.

Standout Tracks: “40 Day Dream,” “Janglin’,”
“Carries On,” “Desert Song” WILSON NEATE


Leave a Reply