In my head, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros aren’t just a band, but actually a nomadic tribe that travels from fantastical forest clearing to fantastical forest clearing. This is where they make their music circles, and I picture a lot of handmade percussion instruments floating in the air around them and that they’re mystically glowing orbs of light. No one has showered in months, so everyone smells like a mixture of body, river water (that they bathe in) and wildflowers (that they sleep in), and this is exactly how it should be — the inevitable outcome of this life that can be chaotic and hectic and also undeniably beautiful, as long as we stay in it together.
In fact, they aren’t just a band; they’re a music collective made up of two core musicians, founder Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, and up to 12 other members. Whether this qualifies them as a tribe or not, it seems to go without saying that their music is basically made to be played live, which is why their latest release, Live In No Particular Order: 2009-2014, is absolutely a dream. It takes songs from all three of the band’s albums, played from 2009, when their first album came out, to 2014, after their third and most recent album came out.
My first particularly memorable encounter with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was in 2010; I’d just started freshman year of high school and the group’s debut album Up From Below, featuring the universally beloved “Home,” had come out a year earlier. Knowing this song had gained the confidence of a junior I idolized — she was alternative, cool, but unbelievably open, and seemed to always be in touch with the real magic of life: love and community. She seemed to emanate the Ed Sharpe mindset, taking a gap year between high school and college to live in a sustainable farm community.
I found it no surprise that her Spotify profile showed her listening to Live in No Particular Order at the same time I was, the day it was released.
The album opens with “Better Days,” a track from their most recent album, unexpectedly titled Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This song is a nod to hope and should be everyone’s go-to on a bad day. It speaks of how we all go through bad times, but what the hell: “down with history, up with your head,” because “we might still know sorrow, but we got better days.” For me those words mean we got better days in the sense that we got days actually better than the ones we’re living now, but also that we got this song, “Better Days.” In this sense, even if the future doesn’t look up right away we have this song, music itself and the ability to feel with others.
Up next is the only recording from 2009, an NPR Tiny Desk recording of “40 Day Dream,” which is the first track on their first album — a little celebration of beginnings and a drop of honey for longtime fans who can appreciate the context.
Then there’s the famed “Home,” which has over 100 million plays on Spotify and which the group manages to perform four years after its release with just as much zealous love and enthusiasm as if they were singing it live for the first time. They do this despite the fact that the relationship between Jade and Alex eventually ended; now, instead of being romantic partners, the two are simply great friends and artistic partners. This time, during the part of the song where Jade and Alex usually tell the story of Jade falling out of Alex’s window and he was falling “deep, deeply in love,” the pair had members of the audience come up to the stage and tell their own stories of being home whenever they’re with one another, whether the love is romantic, platonic or familial.
The last actual song on the live album is “All Wash Out,” which is the closing song of their 2012 album Here. It’s a solid minute-and-a-half longer, the time filled with added harmonies and hums from both Jade and other members of the band, and also with a final clap session from the crowd to go along with the gentle beat of the song. Dreamy instrumentals are made up of gentle strums on both the acoustic and electric guitar, trumpet, piano and a variety of drums, snaps and whistles. The added vocals and the already multilayered instrumentals (all played live) contribute to the communal feel of the song and the entire album thus far.
Though much of the group’s work focuses on maintaining hope and lightheartedness through the chaos of life, a lot of onerous and intense emotion has obviously gone into creating all of this music, showing that the musicians may not only be reminding listeners to stay uplifted, but reminding themselves as well. It only seems appropriate that this last song tells us to “let it all wash out … in the rain.” It’s as if the musicians are telling themselves to let themselves be cleansed of the emotion in all of those live performances, but also telling their audience to do the same.
This sense of togetherness is perfectly encapsulated in the last track, which isn’t a song but simply a recording of a collection of noises, voices, accidental strums and nudges on the drums that were filling the air, presumably before or after a show. It’s called “All Together – Live,” and is the only track without a time or place in its title. Instead it’s simply about being together at a live performance: the band, the audience, all together.