Los Angeles-based indie-folk act Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros returned to the shelves this week after a two-year hiatus with the release of “Live in No Particular Order,” a triple LP. This comprehensive live chronicle is the band’s first album following the departure of longtime singer and co-founder Jade Castrinos, and comes on the heels of three highly successful studio efforts.
The words that best describe this revolving group of up to 12 members are organic and authentic.
Anchored by charismatic lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Ebert, the group commonly explodes onto live stages around the world with a diverse catalogue sure to satisfy many tastes. Although this album — comprised of 21 songs and recorded over the course of six years — falls short of recreating the concert experience and sometimes, but not often, stumbles due the loss of previous albums’ studio quality, it nevertheless serves to fully represent the band’s live capabilities and creative potential.
The first track, 2013’s “Better Days,” sets a high-energy tone for the album, replete with a cheering crowd, a guitar arrangement that channels the work of Ben Howard, a Mariachi-influenced bass section and Ebert’s distinct vocals. Characteristic of many other songs on the album, the song conjures the strengths of each band member, highlighting vocal, guitar, horn and percussion sections both individually and collectively.
The second track, “40 Day Dream,” from the band’s 2009 freshman effort, unfortunately seems to have lost much of its studio vitality. Those familiar with the song’s melodic string arrangements and pounding percussion may almost fail to recognize this old friend. However, even in its stripped-down state, the multipart vocals, accordion and jingle bells combine to create an engaging and unique track.
It is not until “If I Were Free” that Ebert’s defining affinity for whistling makes an appearance. In addition, his neo-hippie attitude is epitomized by the lyrics, “If I were free / I would run into battles with flowers and hugs.”
Musically mesmerizing, the song employs a xylophone and numerous plucked instruments largely absent in mainstream American recording.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the album, “Brothers” features a catchy piano riff and fairy-like chimes, progressing into a full band effort replete with powerful vocals matched by a trumpet.
The verses of the track, comprised of a duet between Ebert and Castrinos, devolve into banter with the audience and the invitation of a lucky fan to join the band onstage. The many sections of this song serve to display the band’s incredible range.
The version of the band’s most well-known track “Home” takes a more free-form approach than its studio predecessor. Starting with African drums, and extending itself by nearly four minutes, the song typifies the communal nature of the group with the invitation of fans to the stage to tell their stories. For example, one 15-year-old boy proclaims his “music festival virginity,” while one woman tells the story about how she bonded with her best friend over Harry Potter.
Conversely, “This Life” appears at first to be the album’s quiet acoustic moment. However, if “Brothers” was the band’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” then “This Life” is the band’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the faint acoustic intro transforms into a roaring folk-rock ensemble. The addition of a guitar line taken from The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” and a similarly inspired vocal approach breathe life into a song about the lies we tell ourselves.
Starting with a slow whistle reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western theme song, “Truth” appears off Ebert’s eponymous 2011 solo album. Although missing the up-tempo chord repetition characteristic of the studio recording, the vocal rhymes reminiscent of Bob Dylan live on in this emotion-filled spoken word rendition. Toward the end, the song deviates into a spacious choir section before heading to its close.
Overall, the album contains numerous catchy lines that will run through your head all day. With a sound quality almost unheard of in live albums, “Live in No Particular Order” faithfully represents the artistic interplay characteristic of the act. A modern take on the folk genre, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros can be described as an amalgam of older acts like The Band and Emmylou Harris, together with familiar modern favorites like Fleet Foxes and Local Natives.
A welcome departure from the perfection and rigidity of most popular recordings, “Live in No Particular Order” is an appeal to both longtime fans of the genre and those who want to hear more of its signature sound.
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