Reviews

Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Author: Megan Rowlands
01/26/2005 | Wilkes Barre Times Leader | Album Review
Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, has celebrated his mainstream success by releasing two distinct, yet entirely cohesive albums simultaneously. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning is a dusty collection of alt-country twang, while Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, with spacey synthesizers and programmed beats, dips a pasty white toe into the waters of electronica .

At 24 Oberst, the doe-eyed, poet laureate of indie rock music combines the bleeding heart of a teenager and the calloused wisdom of an old soul to emerge as one of the greatest storytellers of the past decade. Oberst's last album, 2002's Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil..., perked the ears of critics and put Omaha, Neb., on the map as the next potential Seattle thanks to a heap of talented bands.

Three years later, and the much anticipated follow-up albums are Oberst's best work yet.

Recorded first of the two, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning is a big sister to Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Picking up where Lifted... left off, Oberst's fiery strumming, off-kilter warble and global despondence are layered over dramatic string arrangements. The album opens in typical Bright Eyes fashion: a grim message under a smiling facade. Oberst slurps a hot beverage at the start of "At The Bottom of Everything," a folksy ditty that happens to be the last song a woman hears before plunging 30,000 ft. into the ocean. "Old Soul Song" and "Train Under Water" unravel like Midwestern saloon ballads, while "Lua" is Oberst at his best- alone with his acoustic guitar.

The second recording, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, though not as electro-laden as the title hints, is new territory. Wavy samples loop softly in the background and subtle synth punches up what is otherwise Oberst gray matter. "Arc of Time" becomes a pseudo-Spanish pop gem; "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" a digitalized rock staple featuring Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs; and "Hit the Switch," galactic gospel.

Of course, both albums contain the necessary roughness- cracking vocals, sliding fingers, grainy pre-production errors- left in for effect.

It wouldn't be Bright Eyes otherwise.