If Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros were to be described in a single word, that word would be communal. Whether considering singalong, clap-along anthems ranging from the seminal “Home” to lesser-known burners like “They Were Wrong”, Alex Ebert’s brainchild has always greatly involved the ideas of peace, love, and harmony much in the same way that the hippie movements of the 1960s and 70s had. That’s why it may come as a surprise to some that, beyond keeping that system of brotherhood and sisterhood held tightly to its core (and doubly as much during their live ensembles), the troupe has evolved into a place of self-reflection.
It doesn’t take a deep, analytical look into Ebert’s life to recognize at least some of the events that could have led to his affinity for turning out such an album in the modern era. With Jade Castrinos famously leaving the band’s roster, and with Ebert and his wife experiencing the birth of their daughter, all in between PersonA and their self-titled last, the band themselves have gone through changes in their own personas as major life events have persisted. Even the “Edward Sharpe &” in the album’s cover artwork, when depicting the band’s name, is crossed out, indicating a change within the band that has brought them together even more tightly than could have been previously considered.
Ultimately, the communal heart that the band has always stood for still remains, though what change they do bring to the table is tremendous, when juxtaposed against their collective previous efforts. For some fans, it may take some adjusting to realize that, on this record, Edward Sharpe as we know him is dead and Alex Ebert himself, bearing his heart, reigns supreme over his acclaimed character, joining the other members of the Magnetic Zeros as a fellow zero – an equal in every way, in a shared community wherein they’re all the collective leader of their ongoing movement.
Musically, the band succeeds in painting a picture of where they’re at now in scintillating fashion. Through Sharpe’s death, Ebert remains to even more freely explore his musicality, gracefully lilting across the mesmerizingly psychedelic opener “Hot Coals” amongst a collective of tight, mystifying instrumental sets, and singing with a loose, infectious, and liberated croon on tracks like “Somewhere” and the cheekily true “Free Stuff”. PersonA is different, but it’s different in the way that the Magnetic Zeros needed to display in this transitional time. It may make for a polarizing display depending on who’s listening, but no doubt is it, at the very least, one of the most scintillating album releases of the year thus far.