‘PersonA’: When image overshadows the music

The latest album by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes proved to be nothing but a zero. The 10-piece indie, folk-rock group followed up their 2013 release “Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes” with their fourth studio album, “PersonA.” The psychedelic, sitting around the campfire feel creates the intentionally branded tones that hipsters love and music fans loathe. No matter the genre, all artists form their own brand. A lot of the time it’s the particular image, the story that sells the artist’s vision just as much as the actual music. That’s where the beauty is born, when a connection is made through the music and the inspiration. The problem with a lot of current artists is the fact that their image becomes the main event. The alter ego known as Edward Sharpe taking over as a focal point of the group makes for a very empty brand of artistry. 

I will admit, some of their previous hits are tolerable and quite catchy. I’ve found myself accidently whistling to the tune of “Home,” or humming along to “40 Day Dream.” However, as a true fan of classic and hard rock, this album lacks a level of raw, energetic sounds that make music real and distinctive. The many different genres of rock are all defined by rhythm. A good song is formed through the structure of the piece, along withthe placement of harmonies and rhythm progressions. Every song should sound different andhave emotion within the lyrics and music. There needs to be some sort of power and grit to music making and that’s something to appreciate in rock music.

I listened to this record from a perspective that was unlike my personal tastes. I tried to imagine that I slept in my van, hung out in the woods and haven’t shaved my beard in 13 months, but relating to the image didn’t help with the sound.  It was clear that “PersonA” was another attempt by lead singer Alex Ebert to reinvent his sound and gain acceptance across multiple genres of music. The idea of a new musical narrative did not speak volumes. Songs such as “Uncomfortable” were overly repetitive and lacked a real level of depth. It was a four minute long ramble that actually made me quite uncomfortable.

This was the first album since the departure of co-singer Jade Castrinos in 2014, and it became obvious “PersonA” was an attempt to show fans that the group can still put out music and incorporate different sounds. The song “Perfect Time” takes a direct shot at the inevitable issue. Its vivid imagery does conduct a strain in the band mate’s previous relationship. Lyrics like “Whatever colors you wear / Oh, they gonna bleed someday,” show the complexity of Castrinos’ departure.   

The album highlight “Hot Coals” has a change of pace that keeps listener’s attention. The jazz influence and use of piano is one aspect that captivates listeners and sets a tone of high quality music making rather than overly preachy lyrics. “Lullabye” is a song about Ebert’s daughter, it introduces a real somber tone rather than the typical upbeat or relaxing style. The song expresses Ebert’s concerns with his previous lifestyle and how that might affect his daughter as she grows up. “If only I could protect you from me/ If only, but I fear it will be my fault/ If ever my dear you act adult.” Lyrics like this show just how difficult it is not only to be a father, but to be there to raise your kids properly.   

Admittedly, the album possesses more flaws than anything. As “Hot Coals” incorporated more of a darker sound, songs like “Somewhere” and “No Love Like Yours” were far too shimmery and didn’t match the tone or feel of the rest of the album. 

“PersonA” showed a lot of the band’s vulnerabilities in exploring areas of sound that were previously uncharted. The album doesn’t take listeners far enough and there is an apparent strain on Ebert’s direction and the actual makeup of the songs. It all comes full circle with a lack of depth and inability the mesmerize listeners with a feeling and reaction that come solely from the music.