Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Bright Eyes - LIFTED, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear To the Ground

I must admit that I didn't know what to expect from this album. I had two things to go by: one, the song "Shell Games," which was released nearly a decade after this album and, according to an acquaintance, does not accurately portray Bright Eyes in their earlier days. Two, I knew the only other artists that used particularly long names and complete sentences for their album and song titles are punk and emo bands. (e.g., "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage" by Panic! at the Disco and "I've Got A Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)" by Fall Out Boy.) Of course, Bright Eyes are neither emo nor punk, but more of a folk band, with Conor Oberst as its founder, backbone and lead singer. Very little of the actual music suggests emo inspiration; in fact, these guys are a hell of a lot better than that.

Also, being different from emo (I should stop comparing Bright Eyes to emo now, there's really no point.), there is a good mix of happy and sad here, at least on the surface. Rather than being constantly dark and depressing, like most indie music as it seems, Bright Eyes manages success with songs about hope, like "Bowl of Oranges." *gasp* Is that even legal in albums that sell in total less than a million copies? I guess not, so why don't more people do it?

Oberst relies heavily on his guitar alone throughout the album, and if there's any other instrumentation it's often incidental, sometimes even unnecessary. He is very similar to Samuel Beam (Iron & Wine) in that way; they even share an album cover color and a release date (The Creek Drank the Cradle). Songs like "The Big Picture" and "Waist of Paint" are entirely reliant on simple acoustic backing, both of which soar wonderfully, though both are very different. Cases where the extra instrumentation really do help the music "Lover I Don't Have To Love," a dark love song with excellent orchestral accompaniment, and "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)," the epic and only song that reaches its length almost entirely on music ("The Big Picture" doesn't count as it uses a lot of post-party audio) and begins with a line as wonderful as "Can I get a goddamn timpani roll to start this goddamn song?"

Unfortunately, there's a lot of music here that is kind of hard to listen to on its own. Though I usually don't have a problem with songs of extreme length, the first and last songs are entirely too long for casual listening, or at least for car listening. Even many of the shorter tracks aren't strong enough to stand up to regular listening, and instead do a better job as part of the whole. Some songs also use arbitrary vocal gimmicks that don't really make much sense, like in "You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will." where it sounds as if Oberst is playing from a bathroom stall. Still, there's plenty of music for standard listening here, and Oberst's intelligent, current and sometimes depressing lyrics make up for many of the balls the music drop.

Overall, if you want to listen to some quality folk-inspired rock music, you can't go wrong with Bright Eyes or Conor Oberst. While Iron & Wine would probably be a better first step for those just trying to get into folky music, Bright Eyes is a great next step, and though much of the music doesn't stand up well on its own, there's definitely some great music here to be listened to.

"False Advertising"

"Lover I Don't Have To Love"

 "Bowl of Oranges" (a little quiet. You might turn up the volume)

"Waist of Paint"

"Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)"

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