On the title track of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' debut album, Up From Below, bandleader Alexander Ebert proclaims that he's "ridin' on hell's hot flames comin' up from below." Here, the band's follow-up album, reuses that metaphor with its opening track, "Man on Fire," but does so for a different effect. Ebert, along with his nine-plus band members, has made it through hell's flames and is now basking in the sun's rays. Things aren't as hopeless as they once were, and that's something Ebert feels is worth celebrating. "Man on Fire" sets the tone for an album that is mostly about satisfaction and trying to positively deal with success.
Ebert was coming off of the darkness of drug addiction and failed relationships when he started Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and many of Up From Below's songs touch on being in the process of recovery. If anything, Here is about the results of that recovery. "Anger, anger, you're finally my bitch," Ebert sings (endearingly, we might add) on "Dear Believer." He has gone through some horrible times and come out still alive, now able to make peace with his maker, death, and success.
The songs responsible for that success -- "Home," "Janglin," "40 Day Dream" -- echo throughout Here every now and then. "That's What's Up," the album's catchiest song, is clearly an effort to recapture the chemistry between Ebert and Jade Castrinos that turned "Home" into an omnipresence. And while it doesn't quite live up to the original, it does a good enough job differentiating itself with a great lead guitar and charming lyrical colloquialisms. "Man on Fire" and "Mayla" meanwhile are both by-products of the formula originally used on Up From Below -- starting a song minimally and expanding it into harmonious multi-leveled noise by songs' end. The band's greatest achievement continues to be its ability to find working places for such a wide array of sounds.
But then there are times when the chanting gets to be too much, when you just want to get out Ebert's bonfire song circle. No one really wants to feel like they're listening to a cult. And for that reason, "Child" and "Fiya Wata," songs with background vocals that support Ebert and Castrinos instead of overtaking them, are welcome respites.
While not exactly striking gold for a second straight time, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros take a good step forward with Here. It further establishes the band's identity as communal, indie-rock troubadours, but in no way is it a straight-up rehash. The album is celebratory while also being contemplative, focusing on the joy of success and considering how it has changed them. There likely isn't a song on Here that will reach the heights of "Home," but Alexander Ebert and his band are moving onward, and they seem pretty satisfied with that.