Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Bright Eyes - The People's Key

"You try and bring it together, you try not to cause division, you try and make it as a cosmos. Its a cosmos, but it unfolds as a flower."

So says Denny Brewer, credited with shamanic vocals, that are interspersed throughout, The People's Key, the eighth and, supposedly final Bright Eyes record. With lyrics spanning time travel, holograms, inter-connectedness and isolation, seems that this time around, Conor Oberst is more concerned with matters spiritual, than screaming about break-ups and disappointment.
For a certain generation, at a certain time, its like we have watched Conor Oberst grow up, the quirky, precocious kid from Omaha. Many of us have wrapped ourselves in his trebly catharsis on cold, lonely nights, and tracing his trajectory from bedroom confessionals, through roots rock, to The People's Key big screen production, is like tracing the arc of indie rock from the mid 90s to today. With recent records from indie stalwarts like Iron and Wine and Belle and Sebastien, the albums are growing grander, slicker, more produced, and while one hand it seems like we've lost something special, an obscure intimacy, it is also exciting to watch talented artists grow and evolve, better able to realize ambitious projects. In the case of Conor Oberst, along with long-standing members Mike Mogis on guitars as well as production, and Nate Walcott, along with a slew of guest musicians, he's a damn talented song-writer, and uses the broader pallette to his advantage.
The People's Key is sprawling and adventurous, genre-skipping like a smooth stone over still waters. From the grinding blast-beats of 'Jejune Stars' to the power pop of 'Triple Spiral' or 'Shell Games' to the raw folk of 'Beginner's Mind', probably the closest to vintage Bright Eyes that some of us knew and loved, one thing that they have in common is they are damn catchy, tied together with clever lyricisms that is at sometimes inspired, and sometimes awe-inspiring. 'Ladder Song' is the heart-chakra and center-piece of the record, recorded after a friend's suicide, when the album was almost completed, and its piano driven lament is heartbreaking and thought-provoking, and just goes to show that he can bare his soul and speak plainly, when the mood strikes, and that is the mark of an extraordinary talent, in my eyes.
Conor Oberst has the ability to harness the moods of a particular time, of a certain sub-strata of society, and to personalize it. An individual dealing with the world at large, very large, and his eloquence makes him a benefit to all of us who care, and puts him line with other poetic lyricists of a tradition, Dylan Cohen etc. A gifted person, in a place at a time. The personal as politcal. The politcal as personal.
Listening to Bright Eyes turning their eyes to the sky, to try and crawl out of the sewers of self-pity and apathy, is a journey many of us have taken over the last 15 years or so. To transcend the bitterness and nihilism of the 90s, and try and find enough hope to survive, and a way to do that. Many are probably gonna fucking hate this record, and his/their attempts at speaking plainly about trying to find something greater than themselves. But hell, we all gotta get through the night somehow, just trying to hold on as best we can. I was not immediately crazy about this record, some of it too glossy and slick for my tastes (i had similar issues with the last Belle and Sebastien record), as i played it over and over, collecting my thoughts for this review, i felt myself comforted and inspired by an old familiar voice. In a world with a non-stop barrage of new things and ideas and tricks and gimmicks, it is refreshing to hear someone who has been along for a good majority of my personal trajectory. That we are still alive, and trying the best that we can. Still growing and changing, and trying new things.

You can listen to the whole thing, here.


  1. I like the new record, too. I liked the two solo albums, but I was also a little disappointed about just how NPR-friendly they sounded. He's not exactly bleeding like a 20 year old on the new one (but it'd be weird if he were, so good), but it's more Bright Eyes and less Mystic Valley Band, and I think that's cool.

  2. i didn't get into the solo records, really. I haven't been into, or following, bright eyes in quite some time, so it was nice to discover that i liked this new record, and that i was still rooting for the guy.