Bright Eyes

By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 27, 2005

While still young at 24, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst has been at this songwriting thing for more than 10 years.

During these years, he's been steadily on the rise. 2002's Lifted has been consistently selling well despite no radio or MTV play, and Bright Eyes even hit Billboard's #1 and #2 last year in sales of the simultaneously released singles, "Take It Easy" and "Lua."

The songs were the preview of Bright Eyes' new albums Digital Ash and I'm Wide Awake, which certainly is the best release of 2005, and may end up still taking the spot in 11 months.

With all this impending stardom, it would appear as if life's great for Oberst. But that's not what it sounds like. With his signature trembling vibrato in full effect, Oberst can sell the most painful of lyrics. He sounds like he's heartbroken, curled up in a corner in the fetal position, unable to face the day.

With these two albums, where he's still got plenty to say by the last track, Oberst sets himself apart as a master lyricist and a great songwriter.

The lesser album, Digital Ash, was attempted as a sort of electronic pop experiment. It turned out overproduced, but with a few very bright spots.

The almost bubblegum pop melodies matched with the cold beats create an interesting base, but only two or three songs are especially memorable.

"Arc of Time" mixes handclaps, a roaming drumbeat and random beeps and blips. "Take It Easy" is produced by The Postal Service's Jimmy Tamborello and features guitar from Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner. Both songs work because their speed makes them into something more, something almost danceable and certainly bobbable.

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning shows Oberst reaching his full potential. A mostly acoustic folk album, it draws from Lifted and Fevers and Mirrors, but simplifies the songs to highlight Oberst's vocals.

The songs often allude to Oberst's recent move from Omaha to New York. Drinking, drugs and women are on Oberst's mind, which is nothing new for a rocker. But few can describe their interactions and subsequent struggles like Oberst.

"The end of paralysis, I was a statuette / Now I'm drunk as hell on a piano bench / the sound of loneliness makes me happier," he sings on "Poison Oak."

His lines are occasionally over the top and randomly political, but most of his musings are entertaining and clever.

"If you swear that there's no truth and who cares/ how come you say it like you're right?"

The highlight of both albums is "Land Locked Blues," which is elevated to gorgeous heights by the simple acoustic accompaniment and background vocals by Emmylou Harris, who appears on three songs.

"Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)" is a story about walking in the city, but becomes epic near the bridge, when Oberst seems to decide at whim to take the song into another gear. The urgency of his delivery makes the song, as it does on the closer "Road To Joy."

After nine slow ones, the last song decides to give you an ass-kicking. Using full band instrumentation, you can hear from the first drum beat that a climax is coming.

"Well I could have been a famous singer if I had someone else's voice / But failure's always sounded better, let's fuck it up boys, make some noise."

The band proceeds to do just that, and he screams the rest of the lines, leaving you no idea where he could go next, but extremely ready to pick up a copy as soon as it's out.