Reviews

Four Winds

Author: Justin Kloczko
03/07/2007 | CCSU Recorder | www.ccsu.edu/recorder/ | Album Review
Has Conor Oberst grown up? It's been over 10 years of the musical cadre known as Bright Eyes, and like the ebb and flow of life, Oberst has rode the wave of change. Emerging under the emo stereotype, Oberst has shed his quivering vocals and raging pessimism and has embedded himself deep in the folk tradition, making it full blown with 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Conor's got bigger and better things to conquer.

Four Winds is the six-track prerequisite to the next full-length Bright Eyes LP, Cassadaga, due out in April. The first single, "Four Winds," is about the end of the world coming and embracing every minute of it, rendering things people deem important, like money and religion helpless to man in the end. "Your class, your cash, your country, sect, your name or your tribe / There's people always dying trying to keep them alive," flows over the violin driven track.

Oberst continues with his lexicon of lyrical assaults, "The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Koran is mute / If you burned them all together you'll get close to the truth," indicating his philosophical take on religion, pointing to a more spiritual direction. Cassadaga, which is referenced in the song, is a secluded spiritual community in Florida. For you English heads, the "slouching towards Bethlehem" line is a nod to W.B. Yeats.

"Reinvent the Wheel" might be the most accessible Bright Eyes yet, with cleaner vocals than previous records and a soaring harmonica solo. "Smoke Without Fire" sounds like Oberst is singing in a dark cave, with his echoing vocals and gentle, by the candle light strumming, exchanging verses with M. Ward. The somber trumpet solo really tops this song off.

Longtime Bright Eyes fans won't be too thrilled with the electric guitar fuzz of "Stray Dog Freedom." The lyrics are not up to par with Bright Eyes' songwriting at all, and the corny guitar lick sounds like it could be the intro to a 70s game show. This is a throwaway.

"Cartoon Blues" harks back to the Lifted album, with a fast-paced rock ensemble and lyrics addressing the myth of one of his most infamous songs, "Padriac My Prince" about a mother drowning her baby children. "I listen to a lecture of nonsense till dawn by a plagiary poet with dark glasses on / He said "how did you ever dream of that song, the one where the baby dies?" / I said I'll tell you a secret, which ones your good ear? / Yeah, people are made up of water and fear" debunks Oberst.

The album's closing song paints the vivid picture of a community in exile, with the light tapping drums sounding like people's footsteps leaving their desolate homes. "Tourist Trap" evokes images of Hurricane Katrina. "And the road finally gave me back / But I don't think I'll unpack / Cause I'm not sure if I live here anymore." Oberst does what he does best, and that is making the listener feel like he is singing about something that is happening at the moment. "There's fewer trees, windows, fleas, concrete on the lawn / There's people here but you are gone."

Four Winds is an eclectic collection, and it is signaling a continuing maturity in Bright Eyes' music that is interesting to follow. Once a rotating lineup of musicians, Bright Eyes has now settled on three permanent members: Oberst, producer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and keyboard/trumpeter Nate Walcott. There are always those fans that "hate the new stuff," because they don't have the patience to embrace it fully. Bright Eyes' music is more developed and polished, and Oberst is still atop his game in songwriting, and that is his calling card.
Four Winds

Four Winds

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