Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros scored a sleeper hit with “Home,” a whistling, journey-man folk charmer from their 2009 debut. They’ve gone on to tour with Mumford & Sons and ride the homespun-folk crest to widespread popularity, but the success hasn’t harshed the band’s mellow one bit: Their third album is their messiest and most sprawling effort, blending their trademark psych-rock goofiness with warped gospel balladry and vivid Age-of-Aquarius soul.
An army-sized 10-piece, The Magnetic Zeros still give off the whiff of a cult — on the over-stuffed “Better Days,” frontman Alex Ebert sounds like a hippie camp counselor preaching to his minions. “Try to remember that you can’t forget/ Down with history, up with your head,” he croons, his rasp engulfed by woodwinds, church bells, and Motown bass. He adds, “Well, that’s some cliché shit, make me wanna cry.”
“Cliché shit” this may be, but it’s often transportive, as if the pit band from Jesus Christ Superstar started up a psych-rock outfit. “Life is Hard” is the shimmering centerpiece — falling somewhere between an art-rock lounge piece and an old Hollywood film score. “Come celebrate, life is hard!” the voices cry, swirling higher in the mix, battling violins and tambourines and what sound like bouncing basketballs. Sharpe and his Zeros have a gift with this sort of gentle absurdity, as over-the-top and obvious as it is impossible to resist.