Conor Oberst's, aka Bright Eyes, "Four Winds" is that rare exception.
The critical darling who released two albums last year - on the same day, mind you - will be releasing a new full-length album in the very near future. The two albums from last year and their ying-yang, country folk-electronic pop dichotomy convinced me to give this set a try.
Bright Eyes' recent work is often easily described by genre, but this short collection reveals a confidence and unexplainable brilliance that transcends genre boundaries.
Often considered the contemporary Bob Dylan - a completely ridiculous association - Oberst sounds more like Neil Young on "Four Winds," mixing hard '70s Southern rock with heartfelt ballads and tender songwriting.
The EP begins with the title track, "Four Winds." Fiddles and strings squeak while drums thump along a steady beat to a hymn that is either a critique of American society or a commentary on religion with lyrics like "The Bible is blind / The Torah is deaf / The Qur'an is mute / If you burned them all together you'd get close to the truth."
"Reinvent the Wheel" is from the pop rock ilk. Devoid of the distracting electronic sounds of his "Digital Ash" album, the song proves good lyrics and a good melody can coexist from Oberst, who usually has it one way or the other.
"Smoke Without Fire" is a crippling duet with M. Ward. Stripped to its most acoustic base, Oberst's voice echoes off the walls of a large, empty room. His delivery and narrative clearly sounds like Leonard Cohen, countered by M. Ward's airy whispered response. It is clearly the highlight of the CD.
The last good track of the collection is "Stray Dog Freedom," which revolves around finding a dog in a vacant parking lot, feeding it, and watching it run away as Oberst speculates: "Once he knew his freedom was at stake." I'm not quite sure what kind of message is revealed in this song, but I'll just assume he wanted to write a song about a stray dog.
The music and tone of the song is so laid back and friendly it's hard not to enjoy. The twangy high-pitched guitar sustains completely call upon the pre-grunge Neil Young. The track is my favorite, along with "Smoke Without Fire."
If these are simply the outtakes and B-sides from his upcoming album, I can only imagine how good the new album might be. I will find out and let you know.
Bottom line, "Four Winds" is a worthy short collection that won't break your wallet or your heart.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3