REVIEW: Bright Eyes – “The People’s Key”

Bright Eyes / The People’s Key / Saddle Creek

There’s a lot of name dropping taking place on the latest album from Conor Oberst-led outfit Bright Eyes, which is unusual in itself – and even more so when you consider that the names being dropped belong to people such as Jules Verne, Sisyphus, Buddha and Adolf Hitler. Bringing up these larger-than-life personae in his songs is just one of the ways Oberst lyrically outpaces the usual realm of issues dealt with on Bright Eyes cuts. Songs on The People’s Key deal with the spiritual and the celestial, dedicated to the plight of whole generations, not just obsessed couples or depressed lonely guys. He doesn’t mince words. Oberst claims that “we are jejune stars” (Wiktionary definition of jejune: “empty; devoid of substance”). When he sings in first person, the songs sound consciously constructed as instructional manuals (“I wouldn’t waste another thought on what is fair and what is not”) or cautionary tales to alter the ways of his open-minded listeners.

The rest of the band’s rhythmic and melodic contributions paradoxically make Oberst’s essays on morality and the soul into genuinely pleasurable listens. The sonic duo of Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott shines like a Nebraskan sunset on “Approximate Sunlight” – with pedal steel meeting organs and synthesizers to provide a tangible glow to an otherwise edgy experimental dirge. Most likely to make a mark on the listener however, is the repeated use of the “shamanic vocals” – otherwise known as cracked psychedelic ramblings – of Refried Ice Cream’s Denny Brewer. The bizarre stories Brewer weaves in several early songs will cause a few sideways glances – but the message of peace and hope brought later on is enough to make you forget that other mumbo jumbo.

Download: “Jejune Stars”, “Approximate Sunlight”, “Ladder Song”

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