Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bright Eyes

About a week ago, I crossed paths with a recommendation to take a look at an album that had been a little short on followers and a little long on words - lifted or the story is in the soil, keep your ear to the ground. Released in August of 2002, it's not the newest record out there, but it is the most recent full-length project to come out of Conor Oberst, the only permanent member among Bright Eyes' revolving door of personnel. After spending the last several days spinning the album, and even noting some lyrics, I'm prepared to say that Conor is the real deal.

While I was at first, and to a lesser extent, still am, turned off by the intentionally low fidelity and "home-made" sound of tracks like "You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will." and "Waste of Paint", the sheer variety of sounds on lifted... provides an adequate excuse for retro-recording a couple tracks in an effort to highlight the independent, underdeveloped, iconoclastic, and intensely personal nature of the album. On the other end of things, the synth, looping, and heavy reverb on "From a Balance Beam", stands out from the disc's less-produced moments and leaves ample stylistic room for the other tracks to fit authentically in-between. Oberst explores not only guitar-based, traditional singer-songwriter style, but dabbles in agitated indy-rock, film-esque waltzes, beat-oriented melodics, and experimental sounds. Musically, the album is neither all dark, nor all sunshiny bouncy-pop. The aural mood of "Method Acting" is pressing and fierce, while "False Advertising" is liltingly impartial and "Bowl of Oranges" is a folk-driven lesson upbeat in its tempo as well as its message.

Conor's lyrics are by no means outdone by his music. Rather, it seems, as it should, that the songs of lifted... are the natural expression of a twenty-something's thoughts on life, love, song-writing, and maybe even a dash of politics. In what almost seems like a mission statement from the album's first cut, Oberst croons,

Is it your fear of being buried that makes you so afraid to speak?
An avalanche of opinions like the one that fell that I'm now underneath
It was my voice that moved the first rock and I would do it all again
I mean, it's cool if you keep quiet but I like singing
So I'll be holding my note and stomping and strumming and feeling so very lucky
And there is nothing I know except a lifetime's one moment and wishing will just leave you empty.

In lyrics that are pointed but not blatant, Oberst often aims his words at a character, rather than directly at the listener - creating a feeling of intimately candid voyeurism for the listener as we are privy to his conversations with friends and lovers. At other times, we are swept up in a detailed and colorful narrative or assailed by a biting commentary on the media, pop culture, war, and dugs. The last lines of the album stand as a final summary of Conor's emphasis on reality and experience over the passive surrender to processed ideas while clinging to love as the both necessary and sufficient ideal of a naively brilliant youth:

I've been staring too long at the screen
But where was it when I first heard that sweet sound of humility
It came to my ears in the goddamn loveliest melody
How grateful I was then to be part of the mystery
To love and to be loved
Let's just hope that is enough

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