My Heroes the Zeros!

I was driving around running some errands this morning.  For some, this is torture.  For me, it’s therapy (not that I need therapy – I mean, we can all benefit from a little therapy, I suppose – not to say that I think YOU need therapy – I just mean…well, I don’t know you that well, and, maybe you could – oh, nevermind).  I love driving, and on the road in the car is my favorite place to listen to music.  Today’s soundtrack was Here, the new album from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  It was a really strong therapy session.

As I was driving through Los Gatos, an older man pulled up next to me with the top down on his sweet, newer model, yellow Mustang convertible.  This is not an unusual sight in Los Gatos.  But what stood out was his head-gear.  Dude was sporting a multi-colored cap with a propeller on it.  And he was wearing it confidently.  There was a bold freedom in this old guy’s spirit that was attractive and endearing.  I want to have that kind of spirit!

That’s the spirit I hear when I listen to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Sharpe and the Zeros fit into that same category of music that also houses the likes of Arcade Fire, Of Monsters and Men, The Head and The Heart, Mumford and Sons, The Love Language, Okerville River, and so many others that have surfaced in recent years.  Call it neo-indie-folk-anthem-pop-whatever, I really don’t care.  I call it “Matt’s sweet spot”.  This music is simultaneously loud and quiet, with a big, anthemic feel that lifts your soul, and I like having my soul lifted.  It reminds me of how I felt listening to Springsteen, The Alarm, Big Country, The Call, U2, and other bands that changed my world in high school.  And I like that, too.

Sharpe’s crew separates themselves from the rest of the pack in an interesting way.  While most of the bands in this category are certainly sincere about the art they are creating, the Zeros seem to approach their musical collaborations and performances with a spiritual euphoria.  In fact, when watching them live, it is almost cult-like the way they respond to Sharpe, which makes them both fascinating and creepy (but more fascinating than creepy, thankfully).   This becomes even stranger when you consider that Edward Sharpe himself is nothing more than a fictional persona created by band leader Alex Ebert.  And just what is the fictional Sharpe’s persona, you might ask?  He’s a messianic figure, come to bring healing to Earth.  Imagine that.

I’m not sure the Zeros (or Ebert) know it’s just a persona, and I hope they never find out because it’s working for them!  This is so fantastic and sincere sounding.  It isn’t dance music, but it makes me want to dance.  And while I’m not a dancer, I will dance if I’m moved.  “Man on Fire”, the lead single from Here, has Ebert (or Sharpe) singing “I’m a man on fire walking down your street, with one guitar and two dancing feet.  Only one desire that’s left in me, I want the whole damn world to come dance with me.”  He wants us to dance with him, people!  He wants us to dance over pain and heartache and shame so that we’ll be set free!  Yes!!  Let’s dance all over that pain and be free!  As the music builds and he continues singing that chorus, it is nearly impossible to ignore his call to rise and move.  And the zeros build an infectious cacophony of folk that also forces the issue.  It’s almost impossible to ignore!

Almost.

I recently saw the band play this song on Letterman, and Ebert danced his way up into the crowd, beckoning them to join him.  When the uncomfortable and obviously repressed audience refused, it was a moment that would have been incredibly uncomfortable for most any other band (ever seen a hip-hop artist try to get Letterman’s audience to respond?) and cause them to visibly recoil and probably look a little foolish.  And I would have felt bad for them, shouting out “No, don’t try to get the Letterman audience to respond to you!  You will look foolish and become embarrassed”!  But in this moment, it was actually the audience I felt bad for.  This was a life moment that they missed.  A strange, dirty hippie with a messiah complex was singing an infectious song about creating healing through dancing, inviting you to join him (and singing that it was his last desire!  His last desire, you heartless bastards!) while clearly modeling that actual dancing ability was not a requirement.  And you left him hanging!  And more importantly, you left yourselves hanging.  Shame on you, Letterman’s audience.  Meanwhile, Sharpe and the Zeros just kept playing on, immersed in the love and message of their pretend leader.

Okay.  I’ve said a lot.  But not much about Here, other than alluding to”Man on Fire” being great, which it is.  But the rest of this collection is also strong.  I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I will happily drink AND take a hot drop (I’m using Irish tea talk there, and feeling pretty good about it).

Some of these songs have a front porch gospel vibe, especially “I Don’t Want To Pray” and the reggaeish “One Love To Another”.  On “Dear Believer”, Sharpe (or Ebert – I’m not even sure what to call him anymore) pulls off a strong Ray Davies/Kinks vibe.

Two of my favorite songs on the album feature lead vocals from Jade Castrinos, Ebert’s primary on-stage foil.  “That’s What’s Up” plays up the folk-porch feel, while casting out a fair share of pop hooks and hand claps.  “Fiya Wata” (which sounds a lot like “Fire Water” – Hmm, do you think?) sounds like it could be an early 70’s rock ballad.  And both of these songs are captivating, ranking just under “Man on Fire” for me.

So yeah, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are a little strange.  But aren’t we all?  They just feel comfortable letting it out for all to see and hear.  And they invite you to join them!  I’ve had a little fun teasing the band.  But in truth, I love their passion and the way they completely buy in to what they are doing.  Give in to it yourself and your soul will be lifted as you drive around in convertibles while wearing propeller hats.  Stifle yourself and you’ll be as repressed as Letterman’s audience and you may miss something magical.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros new album is called Here.  Go listen to it.  And dance.  Even if you don’t know how.  ESPECIALLY if you don’t know how.

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~ by themattmorrisshow on June 2, 2012.

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