bright eyes the people's key
  • MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2011

  • Posted by: Matt Howard

It would be blasphemous to ignore Conor Oberst's involvement in the indie music community throughout the previous decade. His creations deserve credit for the expansion of the folk scene as well as the spawning of the indie music movement. Bright Eyes acted as the voice of a generation. The 90s were dull and music had sunken into the treacherous depths of the TRL culture. His poetic tales of despair promoted the rebirth of the counterculture. The Dylan of our day, Oberst lyrically attacked capitalist society through his vocalization of middle-class American futility. And now, Bright Eyes' latest album, The People's Key, presents us with a progressed Oberst.

Oberst's earliest work, under the Bright Eyes identity, delivered listeners his perceptions of the limbos of life. Often depressing, yet warm, the first album, Letting Off The Happiness, embodied typical folk sound. His immensely emotional roar gave the once gentle genre an arousing face lift. The artist's following two albums, Fevers and Mirrors and Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, maintained the artistic, lo-fi instrumental sound as well as Oberst's poems of dismay. Bright Eyes had received mainstream recognition and while some condemned the subsequent, musical progressions, Oberst continued to deliver evidence of lyrical brilliance. Side projects like Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk gave followers alternative images of Oberst, making him an indie renaissance man. The first album in nearly four years, under the Bright Eyes guise, The People's Key, is a recognizable fusion of all Oberst's prior, sonic explorations.

Listening to The People's Key, the most apparent evolution is Oberst's shift away from his traditional folk sound that had once emanated Americana sentiment. Contemporary sound and production qualities background the artist's vocals. This lack of instrumental array quickly escapes the listeners' awareness. The album is overwhelmingly driven by his lyrics. The album follows a constant theme of time and the songwriter's preparation for his unpredicted future. An uplifted mood and tone is felt throughout the entire album.

Oberst has clearly accepted the ambiguity of his and society's future as well as their inability to control the unforeseen. The album's opening track, "Firewall", is introduced by the spiritual jargon of a 2012 prophecy. He acknowledges his approval of life's end through metaphorical references to melting candles. Many of the album's tracks display evidence of the artist's rebirth. The loneliness that once thematically overwhelmed his tunes is absent. In songs like "Shell Games", Oberst revists his past and lets the viewer know that he's grown, but with little regret. In "Haile Selassie", he mentions that he has, "Taken comfort in knowing the wave has crested," (a possible Hunter Thompson reference). He also states, "All despair is forgiven." The most influential track on the album, "Beginner's Mind", is the tale of his career. He vocally acknowledges the naivety of his past. It is a story of growth, and long-lived fans of Bright Eyes will surely identify with the poet.

It is unclear whether the album's theme is a statement of Oberst's regeneration as an artist, or a fond farewell. If the latter holds true, The People's Key is a hell of a way to go out.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Beginner's Mind" on NPR
Bright Eyes on Myspace

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