When Alex Ebert re-emerged in 2009 as messianic musical cult leader Edward Sharpe, many familiar with his previous band, Ima Robot, weren't buying it. With Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Ebert made the dramatic 180 from sleazy electroclash-leaning punk singer to grizzly bearded bandleader in an 11-piece down-home freak folk revue, bright psychedelic colors and farmhouse harmonies replacing his not too distant past of black leather and smirky sneers. Artists change constantly, and Ebert's reinvention wasn't completely laughable or phony. While mired with some cringe-inducing Jim Morrison aping and a generally cluttered sense of arrangement, the band's debut album, Up from Below, had some bright moments when the strength of the songwriting cut through the affectation and actually seemed genuine in a roundabout way. A few years later, Here is much the same. The bandmembers wear the whole communal free-living throwback hippie jamboree persona to the point where they dip into goofy character sketches and threaten to detract completely from some pretty catchy songs. The album opens strongly, with the undeniably catchy pair of tunes "Man on Fire" and "That's What's Up," both rising to handclapping summits of old-fashioned Southern revival and jug band jubilation. The hooky choruses are solid, but there's a pretty heavy sense of musical theater throughout these highlights, leaving the Magnetic Zeros coming off more like Jesus Christ Superstar meets Emit Otter's Jug Band Christmas than the freak folk hoedown they were aiming for. Lead vocalist Jade Castrinos reprises her role trading verses with Ebert on these songs and later takes center stage on the electrified "Fiya Wata." Castrinos' contributions feel spirited and from the gut, whether they're put on or not. Following a strong start, the album fades into a series of exercises in style or emulation. Washy group vocal slow-burner "Mayla" is an acid-soaked sunshine daydream of little substance complete with Jerry Garcia-styled guitar noodling throughout. "One Love to Another" is a striking exhibit of a Bob Marley ripoff, a daring move in even the most fried acid rock circles. While the string of affectations and re-creations of various sects of hippie culture aren't completely unenjoyable, they get old really fast, especially on the weaker material. Ebert's intentions and previous bands are really immaterial in the case of Here. The album comes up short in the song department and doesn't quite get by on its abundance of free-love signifiers.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas