Getting a handle on Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros isn't easy. The Los Angeles band's bio doesn't mention the names of any members or any serious facts about its formation. Instead, it focuses on a story about the fictional Edward Sharpe, a child who went from deafness to "hearing too much." The group's debut album, Up From Below, takes a similarly bizarre approach.
SALVO!, a new 12-part music video, attempts to tie the CD's songs into one continuous and trippy narrative. It all begins with the swampy "Desert Song," a sneaky tune with tribal, thumping beats and the ominous twinkling of bells and chimes. New orchestrated tracks fill the gaps between the album songs — appropriate since much of Up From Below is actually a jumble of different sounds and influences balled together. The result is more like random bursts of joy or hurt than songs.
The music's sporadic nature stems from the huge cast of musicians and friends frontman Alex Ebert gathered after writing the demos that form the basis of Up From Below. In concert, the group changes in size, depending on the day and where they're playing. The touring band is usually made up of ten musicians, though that number occasionally jumps to 13. "We have a lot of different friends around the country," explains drummer Josh Collazo, "so whenever they wanna play with us, they can just join in and come onstage."
Ebert, who used to head up Ima Robot, wrote most of Up From Below as his previous band was falling apart and he was dealing with a mess of personal problems. You can hear his fluctuating emotions and passions in the songs. But you can also hear the energy spawned from ten musicians finding mutual ground. Songs like "40 Day Dream" explode with handclaps, warm synth swirls, and Ebert's comforting scratchy growl.
"I really couldn't describe [our sound], but as far as the feeling, it's very communal," says Collazo. "You just want to have a positive vibe, and I think people pick up on that. But if you were to break it down into genres, it's kinda all over the place. It's psychedelic music or country or Motown or folk rock. We don't really want to have any boundaries."
Indeed, the group's influences are widespread — from Collazo's love of early Beatles and Kinks to old analog recordings to all sorts of groups from L.A., the longtime home of several members.
"I think having a band with so many different musical backgrounds really helps, considering that we're not really scared of trying something different," says Collazo. "Some of the ideas are awful, but with so many people in the band, we can be like, Yeah, I don't know about that. We're kinda like a democracy, but we have each other's back."
"Home," one of Up From Below's best songs, reveals the band's familial attitude. "Home is wherever I'm with you," sings Ebert. "Alabama, Arkansas/I do love my ma and pa/But not as much as I do love you." The words sound like stinky cheese on paper, but they're revelations when backed by sweet trumpets, country-folk guitar twangs, and group yelps of bliss.
But onstage is where Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros really come to life. Jade Castrinos, who shares lead vocals with Ebert, jumps around with his bandmate, both of them flailing their legs like happy children. The rest of the band sways behind them, hammering away on accordion, guitars, keyboards, horns, and tons of different percussion.
Collazo says the band's audiences are made up of grandparents, little brothers with their older brothers, teenagers, and middle-aged men and women these days. In other words, everyone can find something to relate to. "We go with the vibe of the night," he says. "It's a free-for-all of what's going to happen. There's not going to be an elaborate stage show with fire or anything, but we'll definitely put the positive vibes out there."
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