Critical Voices: Alex Ebert, Alexander

March 3, 2011

Alexander suggests that Alex Ebert has finally made up his mind about where he belongs in the music spectrum. Though currently fronting indie-hippie outfit Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ebert previously spent time as lead singer of L.A. powerpop band Ima Robot, and even attempted to pursue a rap career.  His solo debut, however, is clearly in the same vein of his most recent work, sounding much like he does when backed by his Magnetic Zeros. And although Ebert clearly has a talent for indie-folk, listening to Alexander all the way through will make the listener think that maybe he could do with a change of genre.

After “Home” became the ubiquitous, head-bopping entity that it was, Ebert must have decided to pursue his unique mix of country rock and CCR-style hippie tunes full-time, because most of the tracks on his new solo effort sound like the sequel to the Magnetic Zeroes’ 2009 album Up From Below. But despite “Home”’s whistle-along infectiousness, the tracks on Alexander are hit-or-miss. On certain songs, like “Truth,” Ebert’s grassroot techniques meet great success. A sad, whistled melody starts off the track, soon joined by a clanging guitar. The song then takes a turn for the major end of the scale, and backup singers replace the guitar to provide the song’s harmony before nicely resolving with the same melody as the beginning. While the vocals are both interesting and expert, the lyrics are reminiscent of a lecture from a garrulous professor—cryptic,  flirting the fine line between genius and gibberish. Surprisingly, this doesn’t detract from the song—rather, it gives listeners a reason to play it again and again while trying to figure out what Ebert is really communicating. The melodies ensure this is no chore.

Unfortunately, this continuation of themes from Up From Below can sometimes make the collection of tracks grow a little tired. Offerings like “Let’s Win” and “Let’s Make a Deal Not to Make a Deal” do little to differentiate Ebert the solo artist from Ebert the lead singer of Magnetic Zeros, and the instrumentation and themes make him seem like a one-trick hippie.

Thankfully, there are a few more refreshing, stylistically divergent tracks that suggest that Ebert could someday be a soloist in his own right. “Old Friend,” a song about breaking off a parasitic friendship, takes cues from Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” by employing a similar structure—simple in pacing and chord selection.  The use of background singers in “Awake My Body” to create harmony for Ebert’s vocal melodies is another welcome departure from his previous work. Although a few tracks play like Up From Below part deux, there is enough fresh material on Alexander for it to stand on its own, and to prove that Ebert has enough talent to succeed musically without Jade Castrinos and the rest of his Magnetic Zeros.

Voice’s Choices: “Truth,” “Awake My Body,” “Old Friend”

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