Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Laura Sylvester
01/28/2005 | | | Album Review
It takes a confident and prolific artist to simultaneously release two albums in different styles and with different musicians. Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst is nothing if not prolific. Only 24, his resume includes six full-length Bright Eyes releases, and numerous side projects and collaborations. Both new CDs feature the lyric-packed rush of words and emotional vocal style Bright Eyes is known for, but the longest song here ("Train under Water" on Wide Awake) comes in at a mere six minutes - a lesson in brevity compared to the 25-minute opus "Tereza and Tomas" on 1998's Letting off the Happiness.

And with confidence to spare, Oberst aims high. His increasingly literary songs tackle big themes - life, death, love, God, and war. But he's also a master at articulating subtle changes of mood and emotion, say, the difference between the clarity of the way the world seems at night compared to the confusion of morning. Sometimes he stumbles and the words sound trite - the otherwise gorgeous "Landlocked Blues," with Emmylou Harris is marred by the rote cliché "if you love something give it away." But more often he achieves glory. "Lua," the first single off I'm Wide Awake, is Oberst at his perceptive, captivating best, with just voice and guitar telling the story of a doomed relationship:

And I know you have a heavy heart
I can feel it when we kiss
So many men stronger then me have thrown their backs out,
trying to lift it
But me I'm not a gamble, you can count on me to split
The love I sell you in the evening, by the morning won't exist.

Wide Awake is stripped down and folky, with an alt-country tinge. Digital Ash is more rock oriented and electronic, with multi-layered production. Oberst enlists help from some high profile friends including Emmylou Harris and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) on I'm Wide Awake and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's on Digital Ash.

The found sounds on Digital Ash can seem an affected and unnecessary embellishment in certain places - the baby crying in "Ship in a Bottle," for instance, appears to come out of nowhere. But in other places they work. The breathing that becomes digitized in "Time Code" adds a sense of menace and intensity.

Whether you prefer his folk side or his rock side, there's no denying Oberst's presence as a major artist who continues to evolve and explore his craft with each release.