Fevers and Mirrors
Fevers and Mirrors -a full length that was released in 2000 and Every Day and Every Night -an EP released in 1999 are two incredible recordings from a 20 year old controversial child prodigy, Conor Oberst. I haven't heard earlier recordings yet, but I've been told that they are at least as good, but with more of a home-recorded quality and less produced over all.
Bright Eyes's sad and desperate songs fill a lot of my life and space right now. I've been very depressed lately, going through a lot of personal difficulties in my life and Bright Eyes has served as a perfect soundtrack to these rough times when I'm not sure whether I should jump off a bridge or hide in my closet. Sad and scared, but wanting so desperately to understand the reasons for these feelings and snap out of it.
Conor's wavering voice, which he uses to sing in every way from shouting to whispering to damn near whimpering, has more personality than Crispin Glover (well maybe). In a way, his voice sort of resembles a much more dynamic and stylized Gordon Gano (lead singer of Violent Femmes). But please don't think that the VFs reference goes much further than the voice. The music is much more akin to Neutral Milk Hotel and I guess even someone from NMH plays in Conor's band.
Though comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel are obviously flattering, Bright Eyes are very much their own thing and have a unique style and aesthetic that sets them up and beyond 95% of the music that is being made today. The songs are a lot less abstract then NMH, mostly relying on little stories or narratives; expressing a very afraid little boy wrestling with some pretty nasty ghosts and spirits. What kills me though, is even in the lowest moments, a ray of optimism and light will poke it's way through giving Bright Eyes a becoming optimism that is encouraging.
I've been told that live, Conor becomes possessed by the songs he is singing--becoming totally absorbed in the words and emotions, twitching, freaking out, and often times crying during his own performance--which is certainly an interesting twist to the calm indifference that permeates the indie rock scene. This severe emotion is what makes Bright Eyes fairly controversial-I've found that people either love or hate BE. Either they find it incredibly moving or incredibly pretentious.
For about the last month, I've listened to both of these CDs at least once a day fairly consistently. Sometimes even more. I was compelled to buy both as Christmas gifts to my girlfriend-which unfortunately made her a little worried about me, commenting "this stuff is pretty depressing." She knows how affected I am by what I'm listening to and can determine my level of self-loathing by what's in my CD player. I really think that the two go together and should be purchased simultaneously.
Some highlights of Every Day and Every Night:
Every Day and Every Night has five songs but it has more meat then most any other full length album I have on my rack to review right now. Begins with the words "Sitting around, no work today, try pacing to keep awake. Laying around, no school today, just drink until the clock has circled all the way..." and has Joe Knapp (of Son, Ambulance) singing duel vocals with Conor for a very sad, haunting effect that allows them to overlap each other. An intense introduction for sure.
Song two: "A Perfect Sonnet." has some very light keyboard playing throughout the song-a bit more desperate, Conor belts out "I Believe that lovers should be chained together and thrown into a fire with their songs and letters and left to burn in their arrogance."
Song Three: "On My Way to Work" has a slow intro with a weird echo-y effect on Conor's voice and a steel type guitar (I think) giving it a bit of a an almost country twang. This builds up in a way that makes you think "maybe this song isn't so good", but before the song ends, the song suddenly starts to rock "maybe it's me who's this unstable always obsessed about the end."
Song four serves as the stunning, mind-blowing climax of the EP "A New Arrangement" which if I felt like taking up the space, I would just quote the entire song. A fairly plodding song that expresses the feelings of depression that I've been experiencing so very well as I try to figure out what the fuck is wrong with my head that makes me feel out of control about being so sad all the time. "...and the people you once counted on say its all depending on how you act and how you treat yourself--and that is not very well." "We've tried all forms of encouragement and it's still no better. You just can't seem to fake or force a smile, not even a little one."
"Neely O'Hara" is a really nice conclusion that has some cool DJ action samples and keyboards, making it a pretty darn busy song. "...you really can't remember but you know you are not, think you are not, no you are not who you used to be."
Some highlights of Fevers and Mirrors:
Starts with a very long sample of a little kid trying to read from a book some sad story about two best friends parting. The song comes in with a single sad guitar and Conor very quiet and depressed, sounding like it's four in the morning and he's been trying very hard to fall asleep for hours and finally decided to just get up and record the song he'd been obsessing about for the last several hours. "...and maybe the sun keeps coming up because it has gotten used to you and your constant need for proof."
Track three is "The Calendar Hung Itself" which I find myself sometimes playing over and over again to try to sing along to every word. The perfect obsessed lost love song. Every single thing reminds you of her. Every footstep, every other girl you see. Complete dependence on someone else for your happiness. Damn this hits too close to home, yo. This song features some really great keyboarding and a really hopping percussion that you could actually dance to-one of the few Bright Eyes songs that make you want to dance.
We slow wayyy down with "Something Vague": "now and again it seems worse than it is, but mostly the view is accurate." This song has one of the most incredible transitions I have ever heard in a song and I wish I could describe it well. Conor's voice crescendos and builds as he paints a picture of a dream about standing on a bridge which disappears "and I hang like a star, fucking glow in the dark, for all those starving eyes to see..." and with the next line, there is a sudden drop in the song "now I'm confused. is this death really you? do these dreams have any meaning?" Maybe that doesn't really explain it, but from there the song trails off and then mysteriously ends prematurely.
Track six "Arienette" is enough to make all of the hairs on your back and neck stand right up and scream along in anguish "stay with me Arienette until the wolves are away." This is probably the song people most have in mind when they make the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons.
"When the curious girl realizes she is under glass" consists of Conor playing piano and singing with weird background house noises (like a TV and coughs and footsteps). It wavers between calm and extremely frantic "But no matter what I would do an attempt to replace all of the pills that I take trying to balance my brain..."
"Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh" is probably the most intense song of a broken heart and betrayal that I can think of. About a girl who just can't understand the sadness that the protagonist is feeling and finally gives up on him "you said you hate my suffering and you understood and you'd take care of me. You would always be there, well where are you now?", "you twice removed a lock of hair that said our love would never die. Well ha ha ha ha."
"Sunrise, Sunset" has a mandolin and flute added to the mix. This song seems to be about the emotions and thoughts that go along with dealing with Bipolar. "when was the last time you looked in the mirror? Because you have changed. yeah, you have changed. Sunrise. Sunset You are hopeful and then you regret. The circle never breaks. Sunrise. Sunset You are manic or you're depressed. Will you ever feel OK?" This song goes in circles and builds until you are so afraid that your stereo might explode and a ghost will appear out of the corner of your eye sitting on the edge of your bed laughing at you as you sit and type at your computer at 3 in the morning realizing that you have to get up in two hours to go to the job you hate. The cycles roll over and over. Is it supposed to be funny? I hope I can look back and laugh some day.
"An Attempt to Tip the Scales" ends the album with some optimism "So close to dying that I finally can start living"
Following that song there is a long, pretty funny radio interview with Conor, where he sorta plays with the DJ and makes up some crazy stuff. It's sort of distracting to the flow of the album and I usually skip over it at this point, but there is a bonus track after it "A Song to Pass the Time" which is really good but doesn't really seem to work with the rest of the album. It's got some really great lyrics, but mostly it's just what the song title suggests.
CD / LP / MP3
CD / LP / MP3
CD / LP / MP3