Wednesday, February 16, 2011

REVIEW - Bright Eyes - The People Key

Onward and Upward
A collection of thoughts about The People’s Key

Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott and they have got a new record called The
People’s Key coming out on the 15th in the United States and on the 14th in the rest of the world. It is a record filled with heart, passion, energy and hope and it is a record that’s very easy to love.

Still the sound of the record is unlike anything Bright Eyes has previously done, but at the same time it tips its hat to a lot of their previous work. If we hold this to be true, does that mean the different sounds on The People’s Key are sprawling? Actually no, as different as the songs are from each other, they mix together effortlessly. Slow hypnotic rhythms (Firewall, Approximate Sunlight), groovy pop swirls (Haile Selassie, Beginner’s Mind), heart-shocking rock (Jejune Stars), relaxed playful beats (One For You, One For Me) and gut wrenching, haunting melodies (Ladder Song).

A Perfect Sonnet
“There was an effort to make something more… pop maybe? “
(Conor Oberst, BBC 6 Music, February 2011)
Oberst said this questioningly and as with my other favorite band My Morning Jacket, it is hard to pin down a specific genre for this album and this band. I never did agree with the notion that the sonic real estate on 2007’s Cassadaga was too crowded, but in comparison The People’s Key does have more space and it also feels more relaxed. It’s filled with energy, modern with a twist of 80’s sounds and above all you can truly hear the joy of making music.
"We have an ability to morph our sound from record to record, if Conor says we're going in a new direction, I get behind him."
(Mike Mogis, Ventura County Star, February 2011)
Another thing that stands out on the record is Oberst’s vocal style, it was apparent even from the first release off the album (Shell Games) that something had changed. Just like the record, Oberst’s voice is rich with energy, as well as uncompromising focus. It’s as if he decided to challenge himself vocally and needless to say it worked out magnificently.

No Lies, Just Love

Before The People’s Key the band’s most recent activity was protest song Coyote Song and the band
has been known to mix music with political activism, so is this a political album? Not explicitly, more
in the sense that it contains a desire for open-mindness, empathy and a world less divisive. The
songs point to humanity, togetherness and make an effort to remind us that we’re all the same.
The songs all definitely have a meaning to me, but I long ago realized it's better to let people find
their own meaning.
(Conor Oberst, Spin 2011)
When listening to The People’s Key it’s also apparent that there are ways in which Oberst lyrical
approach has transformed. He has said that he deliberately tried to write songs more open to
interpretation and he appears to have shifted from a confessional personal style of writing, to a
broader perspective approach in the process. So if it on occasion has been hard to understand the
meaning of Bright Eyes songs in the past, it has grown slightly harder now that there’s no conscious
effort from Oberst to make the listener understand.
“Love has always been the message, it’s just, circumstances happen, right? People freak out, just flat flip out.”
(Shamanic vocals on Firewall, by Denny Brewer,)
That being said, when listening to records by Bright Eyes one can’t help but notice certain lyrical themes and phrases recurring throughout their records. The People’s Key contains some familiar themes, such as the continuous battle with spirituality, the pursuit of innocence gone astray and the ever so present quest for some scrap of clarity among the confusion. Oberst is not afraid to thoroughly examine these themes and more often than not he also scrutinizes himself in the process. Though with this record we find yet another difference compared to previous formulas, if Oberst’s lyrics have at times seemed weary of the world, they now seem hopeful. If he had already come to the conclusion that we got a problem with no solution, but to love and be loved, it’s as if he’s just now started to believe in it.

An Attempt To Tip The Scales

So is there anything at all that The People’s Key is missing? Well, after watching Oberst and Walcott performing an excellent version of Lua at a Mystic Valley Band show, with Walcott adding a stunningly beautiful and heartbreakingly wistful trumpet solo, I’d hoped for some trumpet on this record. There isn’t any, but I take comfort in knowing that according to reports from the band’s current tour that so far whenever Lua has been played, Walcott’s solo has been included.

At The Bottom of Everything

Before I finish this collection of thoughts on The People’s Key, I’d like to say that this is an album that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and am confident that I will continue to enjoy for years to come. It is filled with melodies that go into those parts of your heart and mind that few songs can touch. Oberst, Mogis and Walcott have been making high-quality music together for a long time and this truly is Bright Eyes at their best.