Do It All
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros’ new album, PersonA, is an incredible modern rock performance. It is filled with an array of different genres, executed masterfully by a band of rock ’n’ roll lovers. Their taste is obviously eclectic; they incorporate psychedelia, garage rock, roots, folk and gospel music into their songs. And their stylistic versatility and incredible musicianship is firmly demonstrated by the album’s fantastic instrumentation. PersonA has a little something for everybody, yet it is still a unified album that begs to be listened to in its entirety.
Throughout many of their songs, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros seem to be forging their own unique sound. For instance, “Hot Coals,” and “Free Stuff” are examples of the band’s efforts to solidify their style. “Hot Coals” is a longer piece–almost eight minutes in duration. The vocals, as is custom for lead singer Alex Ebert, are sung in a heavenly high falsetto. The song begins with acoustic guitar strumming and fingerpicking, a technique that is elemental to the album’s sound. There is no explicit percussion or bass featured at the beginning of “Hot Coals,” but both instruments emerge as the song continues, with the percussion fading to the song’s backdrop in a pleasant manner. Ebert urges his audience to “get the fuck out my side,” introducing the voice that will be speaking to us throughout the rest of PersonA. Ultimately, the song evokes a sound similar to that of The Hush Sound–a bopping, poppy medley of rock/indie piano-centric music. Rhythmic woodblock and piano solos eventually make appearances, cementing its impressive rhythm section. And reverberated, digitally-processed horns ornament the sonic atmosphere towards the song’s conclusion. There is a certain poetic, image-based nature to the lyrics, which helps the listener to feel coals burning throughout the entirety of the song.
“Free Stuff” is similar in its effort to solidify the group’s sound. It begins with a pounding bass drum, which becomes the defining aspect of the song. The gentle fingerpicked acoustic guitar chords make yet another appearance. As delicate melodies waver in the background, Ebert sings, “hey, everybody stealing my heart, everybody taking my head, head.” The lyrics suggest that the singer is stretched thin, expressing his angst and anguish. Yet “Free Stuff” is a very relaxed song, reminiscent of a mellower version of The Pixies. In what becomes a common theme on the album, the band change up the groove towards the end of the song, as the drums rev up to play quarter notes on every beat. Finally, the song culminates in a wistful tuba solo–the instrument’s only appearance on the album. This use of seemingly random instruments seem to be a trademark of the band’s aesthetic.
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros utilize different musical influences and techniques to help their sound reach its fullest potential. For instance, their second track, “Uncomfortable,” begins with an electronically-processed backmasking effect. It then features gospel-like call and response vocals, accompanied by stabbing piano chords. Ebert insists “uncomfortable, you’ve got to get uncomfortable.” Meanwhile, the bass line slyly repeats eighth notes in the background, continually riffing throughout most of the song. A synthesizer outlines the chord progression. This electronic element is a large contributor to The Magnetic Zero’s sound throughout PersonA.
The third track on the album showcases the band’s more classic rock influences. “Somewhere” begins with a Beatles-esque fingerstyle melody–in fact, the similarities between the song’s main riff and “Here Comes the Sun” are somewhat striking. There are a lot of snaps and body percussion in the background, vaguely reminiscent of a ’60s rock sound. “Somewhere” ends with a subtly intense percussive section, featuring acoustic drums that provide a gentle and necessary texture to the soundscape. The song clearly demonstrates the band’s ability to instill their own unique sound with disparate musical influences.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros also attempt to rethink traditional styles of music. The eighth track on the album, “Perfect Time,” is their modern take on the traditional jazz standard. As a result, the jazz influence is obvious. The opening trumpet and soft piano figures bathe the piece in jazz tonalities that are an arresting departure from the band’s signature sound. Ebert poses the question: “what is a cold-blooded madman to do?” thus revolutionizing the subject matter of the more traditional, love-themed jazz standard. As if to hammer this point home, the following track, “Lullaby,” adopts similar jazz tonalities and attempts to rethink the lullaby. The band shows that they are not afraid to take on tradition and make it their own.
The last song on PersonA, “The Ballad of Yaya,” finishes the album in exciting fashion. It boasts an interesting collection of instruments that are uniquely mixed. Ebert starts off by singing to his audience, “don’t let the title scare ya, it’s a cinema mind-fuck.” Nevertheless, “The Ballad of Yaya” ends with a happy tone, as the constant tambourine shakes reaffirm the party-like atmosphere of the song. However, before the track and indeed the album–can resolve, it begins to steadily climb in emotion and feeling, finally transitioning to a frantic rhythmic section that culminates in the word, “resurrection.” The song then returns to its original instrumentation: mainly piano, acoustic guitar and vocals. As a result, the band re-establishes the defining elements of their sound, as Ebert declares that, “the movie’s over,” lending a cinematic lens to all that came before it, and definitely declaring the album’s end.