Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes”

(Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Let’s Get High,” “Remember to Remember”

The first minute and a half of the song “If I Were Free” features two singers. The first singer has two brief moments of vocal impression – Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The second singer, Ringo Starr ala “Yellow Submarine.” These vocal inflections are not meant to be intentional. The band is not trying to repeat the music done by those that inspire them. The vocal similarities to Dylan, Springsteen and Starr more seem to slip out, and that is what most of this album is. “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” feels like odes to those that came before, with it’s attempts at originality feeling somewhat mixed. Self-titled albums are meant to be declarations of the band’s distinct sound, but this album is ironically the least original of their three.

“Up From Below,” the debut from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, had a distinct country-folk sound that was trimmed perfectly for crossover radio. “Home” is a country song, completely, but found love on alternative radio (and in my head for a whole summer). Their follow-up, “Here” was an underrated gospel-based gem. This new, self-titled album doesn’t have as much of the mixing as it seems to think it has. It more resembles a Dylan album, when he was at his mid-60′s peak. Five studio musicians join the band’s eleven members on the album, but it feels like a one-person operation at times. Lengthy openers “Better Days” and “Let’s Get High” sound like a number of musicians gathered around one songwriter, following his or her lead, instead of a collective. “Let’s Get High” is a phenomenally energetic and great song, but one that doesn’t quite capture the feel of the band. Luckily, the album doesn’t continue this feel, as the songs get shorter and more voices are introduced. Lead singer Alex Ebert is given many lead moments (especially on “This Life”), but so is back-up singer Jade Castrinos, who gets to shine bright 0n “Remember to Remember.” Other singers are thrown into the mix, too, and frequently. Once the album gets past it’s inspired but dragging opening two tracks, it begins to feel like the huge collaborative effort it should.

“Two,” which is humorously the third song, is a beautiful duet between Ebert and Castrinos. “Life is Hard” and “If I Were Free” make the album’s middle a fun if agenda-less listen, bolstered by skilled songwriting. The pace drags towards the end. There are a number of slow songs that seemed to flow together, and lost my interest. The halted pace overstays it’s welcome, but at least it doesn’t finish out the album. The aforementioned “This Life” and “Remember to Remember” are not fast songs, but serve as powerful ending notes to the album. It is mixed, overall, and lacks the based-yet-blended originality that its predecessors had, but “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” is, at its core, an enjoyable folk collective, aiming high and hitting it more often than not.

If you like this, try: Phosphorescent’s criminally underrated folk-everything album “Muchacho” (2013)

-By Andrew McNally

Black Sabbath – “13”

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “God is Dead?” “Methademic” (Bonus Track)

“13” is refreshing, because it proves that bands long past their prime can still make quality records. I was losing faith in this after Megadeth’s awful Collider came out just last week.

“13″ is the first Black Sabbath album to feature bassist Geezer Butler in nineteen years, and singer Ozzy Osbourne in thirty-five. Drummer Bill Ward, originally part of the recent reunion, is not on the album because of a contract dispute, and has been replaced with Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine). Even with positive early reviews and three-quarters of a reunion, fans are most likely skeptical about a new album. Butler, Osbourne and guitarist Tony Iommi are 63, 64 and 65, respectively. But Sabbath brought in legendary producer Rick Rubin, who has done wonders for everyone from System of a Down to Johnny Cash. What resulted from their sessions is an album much more similar to classic, early Sabbath and not the tepid albums that came later.

Black Sabbath have often been misunderstood as a band that sang/sings exclusively about doom and gloom, life and death, heaven and hell (which is the name of one of their more famous songs). But closer listens to their early albums show that they expanded far out beyond those themes, lyrically. Yes, they were embraced and continue to be (like 13′s “God Is Dead?” and “Pariah”). But the band has always sung about more than that, evident in songs like the poorly-titled “Methademic,” that deals with years of drug problems. “13″ has some of the best lyrics in Sabbath’s history.

The biggest surprise of the album might be the quality of Ozzy’s voice. If you’re reading this, then you can probably imagine what Ozzy’s talking voice sounded like on MTV in 2004, and maybe even what it has sounded like on his more recent albums. But those albums were Rubin-less, and Rick Rubin did his best to bring the band back to it’s seventies roots. Iommi’s riffs are there, Butler’s bass is booming, Ozzy’s voice fits nicely, and there is a constant impending sense of doom. It has all the key elements of early works like “Paranoid” and their self-titled debut. Something is lacking, however. It seems like it is a mix of energy and volume. It is certainly loud, but it feels like it should be more so, and with a little more urgency. Still, the album comes as a nice surprise and just goes to show that when the line-up is back, they haven’t lost a thing.

If you like this, try: If you’re exploring this album as a classic rock fan, then Bob Dylan’s “Tempest,” another great album coming out late in the game. If you’re exploring this as a metal fan, then System of a Down’s “Toxicity,” to see both religious lyrics brought in alongside silly ones, and the magic of Rick Rubin.

-By Andrew McNally