Reviews

Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Author: Robert Johnson
02/11/2005 | San Antonio Express News | Album Review
Give Conor Oberst high marks for sheer chutzpah. Releasing two albums simultaneously is supposedly the province of established stars (Bruce Springsteen, Guns 'N Roses), not up-and-coming singer-songwriters.

But Oberst, who records as Bright Eyes, isn't just any singer-songwriter - he's the hottest thing going on the indie scene. Want proof? His two singles (one from each album) placed 1-2 on the singles sales charts last month, and both albums debuted in the Top 20 last week, an amazing feat for an indie-label artist.

Turns out the heat is well-deserved. Though 22 new tunes from any artist is a lot to digest, the 24-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., is an engaging wordsmith with a knack for concocting lines about life and love that are sure to make less-talented songwriters say, "Gee, I wish I'd written that."

It also turns out that releasing two albums at once wasn't a marketing ploy or a case of an artist unable to evaluate his work. The records are separate entities, not a two-CD set split in half to maximize profits. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" is a sprightly, acoustic-based effort that suggests "Highway 61 Revisited"-era Dylan. As the title suggests, "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" runs on electronic instruments and beats.

"Wide Awake" is the more satisfying of the two, not because singer-songwriters should play guitars and not machines, but because the denser, often chilly instrumentation of "Digital Ash" makes it tougher to get at Oberst's lyrics. But both are stuffed with memorable lines, suggesting that Oberst is well on his way to living up to his considerable hype. ***1/2 and ***1/4 (three and one-half and three and one-quarter stars), respectively


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