On the live stage, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros' music is intoxicatingly celebratory, as 10 or more musicians combine to create a joyously uplifting mass clamor. Its good-natured live presence — a perfect vehicle for the group's achingly sincere tone of compassion and whimsy — is genuinely inspiring, as the band expands on the more intimate, even ruminative sounds of its three albums.
On their records, Alex Ebert and his band traffic in songs that feel both warm and cavernous, while bringing out the more reflective, less anthemic, occasionally dark side of Ebert's songwriting. But, as on the group's new self-titled album (out July 23), the group still conveys joy amid massively unselfconscious celebrations of community and optimism. As always, the lyrics can be quaint and even corny when decontextualized — as when Ebert sings, "I'm tough enough to be a flower" in "In the Lion" — but they're infused with a depth of feeling that carries them across.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros rarely reaches for the homey uplift of the band's 2009 smash "Home," though Ebert does sing in a few of these tracks with that song's Jade Castrinos, who seizes the spotlight entirely in "Remember to Remember." Instead, the album finds Ebert mixing mission-statement anthems ("Let's Get High," whose chorus includes the built-in parenthetical "on love") with more hard-bitten tracks like "Life Is Hard," in which celebration goes hand-in-hand with the real-world struggles that make music meaningful.