Let it be known: I am very rarely moved to write album reviews. Usually I find them too daunting. This is the first album I’ve listened to that not only inspired a strong opinion, but one that I felt compelled to share in writing. So basically this is my first ever non-soundtrack album review. Crazy, right? Maybe I’ve just reached “that point” in my blogging career, but all I know is I’m going with it.
It should also probably be known: I have seen Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros more times live than any other band. Treasure Island, Lollapalooza, Coachella…their own show at the Mayan in Los Angeles. Four times may not seem like a lot to you more worldly concert-goers, but four times in one year? I consider that a lot.
So naturally when I heard that kooky frontman (and Los Angeles native) Alexander Ebert was releasing a solo effort I was intrigued – albeit a little skeptical. Unfamiliar with his Ima Robot work, but certainly aware of his background in hip hop, the only comparison I had to draw from at the time of listening is his work with the Zeros. What makes that collective so enjoyable is the happy, hippie, Kumbaya group sing-along feel. Ebert may be the one prancing around the stage shirtless, but what really defined the group was, well, the group. So what would he sound like on his own? Would he stay in he stay in character as the beloved sprite of Edward Sharpe? Adopt a new persona altogether?
Alexander, released earlier this month on Vagrant Records, managed to be exactly what I hoped while also catching me off guard. The first four songs are my favorites on the album. “Let’s Win,” “Awake My Body,” and especially “In The Twilight,” are all sweet and catchy, with a sneaky tendency to worm their way discreetly into your brain and cause you to smile before you know what hit you.
Not to say that “Truth” – the third track on the album, and first single from it – doesn’t, the song is just a total departure from the rest. Not just out of the first four, but the entire album. In “Truth” we can hear echoes of Ebert’s hip hop past, but through an indie folk filter that gives the lyrics an almost spoken word feel.
The star of each track is his voice, adorned with a new unexpected sound – snaps, claps, clarinet, viola, trumpet, the aforementioned dash of hip hop on “Truth”, a soulful swagger on “Bad Bad Love.” Also true to Ebert’s persona: the quirky last song, “Let’s Make A Deal, To Not Make Deal,” which sounds more like a nursery rhyme or a kids song, but with lyrics like, “drop your fears like little turds.” You it’s hard not to laugh, reminded that at the end of the day this is still the same person known performance antics like prancing around shirtless and climbing up trees.
On the whole though, what I loved about Alexander is its simplicity. The album makes the listener feel as though we were invited into an experimental session in Ebert’s bedroom, while still retaining all the charm of the Edward Sharpe collective. Add the knowledge that Ebert played every instrument you hear, learning whatever he didn’t know the viola and clarinet, and the accomplishment is all the more impressive.
Buy Alexander, the self titled solo debut from Alexander Ebert, here. Recommended for listening while driving on a sunny day, cleaning your room on a rainy day, lying on the beach and smiling.