When this record starts it starts with a sample. A random preacher man rambling on about religion and spiritual matters. It could not be more Bright Eyes and, to be honest, my first thoughts were “here we go again”. Bright Eyes has a tendency to start records with such samples. At first I was really unimpressed by this opening and the recurring voice throughout the record is both unnecessary and a bit annoying. However, I have admittedly grown quite fond of the goofball who doesn’t, at any time, make much sense and uses words like “charismistic” which, let’s face it, is quite simply genius. Anyways, if I am honest with you, that’s about the only major fault I can find with this record. If the beginning is unquestionably Bright Eyes the rest of the record is pretty massively unexpected. And in a really, really positive way.
By no means am I the world’s biggest Bright Eyes fan. In fact, I’d probably say that anything before ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ is relatively new to me. I do love that record though, and I love ‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’ too. However, ‘Cassadaga’ disappointed me and then Conor’s solo efforts with The Mystic Valley Band, whilst interesting at times, were for the most part lazy and a bit disappointing. In fact, I barely ever listen to those records. So I may not be the most qualified person to discuss Bright Eyes music back catalogue. However, when I knew they had a new record coming out, I was excited and was hopeful that what was to be released would be a step back in the right direction.
I’m not sure what has happened if I’m honest. No matter how much I hoped for improvement, I did not expect this whatsoever. This, for me, is Bright Eyes best record by a small country mile. Simply put, it’s brilliant. It feels like a band finding themselves. A band that has suddenly matured and found focus. A band that is willing to try the unexpected. And they are all the better for it, because this for me sounds like Bright Eyes should sound.
Gone are the Americana twangs that left Bright Eyes songs often drifting in to the “it’s good but it could be anyone from this genre” category. Gone is the laziness. Gone are fillers. This is a proper record. From start to finish. Opening track ‘Firewall’ sets the tone. It’s dark. It’s edgy. It hints towards unexpected influences such as Nirvana and Mogwai. It’s a great way to open the album and set the mark of quality. As always with any record you just hope that the quality of an opening track can be sustained throughout and tracks like ‘Jejune Stars’, ‘Approximate Sunlight’, ‘Triple Spiral’, ‘Ladder Song’ and the brilliant album closer ‘One For You, One For Me’ are just quality pieces of song writing. It feels like the band have thought long and hard about what parts of their previous work they loved the most and then shaped that sound into something excellent.
What really stands out for me on this record is the musicianship and construction of each song. Conor Oberst’s ability as a songwriter has never been in question, even if he can at times be prone to laziness and complacency – possibly believing in his own hype a little too much. What is different about this record is that his words and voice take a back seat and let the instrumentation do a lot of the talking. It’s not all about him. The overall sonic quality of the record is streaks ahead of anything in the past. The accompaniment to Oberst’s vocal is powerful and often leads and drives the music forward rather than just being there to compliment his voice and words. It has a focus of its own. It’s own agenda if you like. This record feels to me like maybe the other members of Bright Eyes have finally found their voice? That Oberst has embraced the idea of collaboration more readily and that Bright Eyes is not just about him. Possibly Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott have had a much larger say in the end product? I don’t know. I am speculating here. Perhaps it is simply that Conor has stopped trying to sound like Bright Eyes and produced a record, which just came out naturally. Who knows? It’s really not important to be honest, just fun to wonder. What is important is that this is Bright Eyes best record for me. If this is to be their last, I personally would be gutted because it feels like a beginning of something new and exciting.
You should check out Bright Eyes new record ‘The People’s Key’ when it is released on 14th/15th February 2011 . It’s well worth it. You can do so HERE. Enjoy