People worry too much about the authenticity of Alex Ebert's Edward Sharpe persona. Yes, the bearded, wide-eyed hippy messiah thing is far from his former incarnation as frontman of electro-rock band Ima Robot, but it's a more interesting way to get through rehab than writing a bunch of earnest songs about getting sober. Set aside your concerns about the backstory, listen to the actual songs and you'll discover a talented band that's grown a lot since their 2009 debut, Up From Below, without losing track of their strengths.
This sounds like a group effort, which is the biggest change. It's obvious they've been touring constantly for the past few years, and consistently maintain that balance between casual looseness and confident tightness. The production is just off-kilter enough to set them apart from the folk-rock pack, and they wisely resist the temptation to use their sprawling lineup as an excuse to imitate Arcade Fire. We still wish they'd find a way for talented co-vocalist Jade Castrinos to spend more time in the spotlight, but that's a minor complaint.
Top track: That's What's Up