Oh Holy Fools
The Music of Son, Ambulance And Bright Eyes
Saddle Creek, 2001
RiYL: Neutral Milk Hotel, Palace/Will Oldham, Jeremy Enigk
I heard that Bright Eyes was releasing a split CD with Conor Oberst's friend (and sometime drummer) Joe Knapp's band Son, Ambulance during a show in late September. At the time, though, I didn't think
much about the notion of a split release. I mean, what self-proclaimed indie rock listener doesn't own a split 7" record of some sort or another?
But, when my copy of Oh Holy Fools arrived in the mail, something was immediately clear: this album isn't a split. There are two bands performing their songs on the CD, however, it's not four songs by Bright Eyes and then four by Son, Ambulance, or vice versa. No no no, my friends, rather, the clever cats at Saddle Creek have alternated between bands, starting with Son, Ambulance and continuing throughout the CD's eight tracks. "What about continuity?" you ask, and I reply, "There IS some odd blend of continuity here." Somehow this experiment works.
Joe Knapp has the weirdest voice. That isn't to say that it is either good or bad, but that it is just plain weird. Sometimes it seems like he is 1/72nd of a beat behind when he sings, other times his vocal uniqueness is absolutely perfect. Oh Holy Fools is the world's first real dose of Son, Ambulance (although Knapp recorded four bare-bones tracks that appeared under the band's old name, Ambulance, on an Insound Tour Support CD) and if you are open to Knapp's voice, the songs prove to be both engaging and endearing.
"The Invention of Beauty" sonically invokes a melancholy Club Med vacation with staccato guitar strumming (that sounds a bit like a ukelele), sparse syncopated percussion, and heartfelt lyrics delivered as a train-of-thought confession. "Kaite Come True" is the strongest contribution, with a wordy chorus that gets stuck in your head, as the vocals at first quietly plea and then triumphantly proclaim, "Will you step into the light from the screen / so I can make out your shape / you don't need to tell me anything / because I know what you mean..." On to the Bright Eyes songs. Sometimes, Oberst's lyrics capture a universal aspect of existence so perfectly that I question if he is a reincarnation of some poet or philosopher. But, I think one of my friends captured it best when he proclaimed that Oberst is a fantastic lyricist and an okay songwriter. When I reflect on it, there are really only three frameworks to Bright Eyes songs. Fortunately I enjoy all three and have yet to tire of them.
Oberst and company don't break any new ground with their contributions to this disc, but they do add four lyrically-strong and charming songs to their ever-expanding catalogue. As he often does for Bright Eyes, Mike Mogis (of Lullaby For The Working Class) adds musical depth with vibraphone, mandolin, and pedal steel. "Going For The Gold" features a Steve Micek B-flat horn solo that would do Neutral Milk Hotel proud.
Through "Oh, You Are The Roots That Sleep Beneath My Feet And Hold The Earth In Place," a lilting 6/8 shuffle, along with "No Lies, Just Love," and the oft-played live "Kathy With A K's Song," Oberst and company offer up a trilogy of what appears to be, and I hate to jinx this, relatively hopeful songs about love and life.
Oh Holy Fools is a thoroughly pleasant listening experience that can serve as a comely backdrop to a mellow evening with friends or as a Sunday morning record, just as well as it can provide the soundtrack for a late night, head-clearing drive alone.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3