Oh Holy Fools
It's hard to avoid Bright Eyes these days. Since the release of their latest full-length, Fevers and Mirrors, there's been a lot of press, some exceedingly praiseworthy, some overtly negative. Conor Oberst is the kind of songwriter that elicits that kind of bipolar criticism and I can certainly understand where the negativity comes from. A lot of Oberst's antics could be read as pretentious or over-hyped. Regardless, I position myself on the favorable side because I believe, at the heart of it all, Oberst is an excellent songwriter and lyricist. In fact, the four songs on this split EP with Son, Ambulance demonstrate some of his strongest songwriting yet. Conor's voice is better than ever, supporting great melodies over a tasteful mix of both acoustic and electric guitars. As always, there's Conor's shape shifting retinue of musicians that make up the remainder of Bright Eyes, this time including flute, vibes, pedal steel, and the welcome addition of horns. Lyrically, the themes of depression and sickness seem to be moving more toward healing and hopefulness, characterized best by "Oh, you are the roots that sleep beneath my feet and hold the earth in place," a refreshingly upbeat tune. As for Son, Ambulance...I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about them after hearing their decidedly uninspiring offerings on the Insound Tour Support CD. Thankfully, Son, Ambulance redeem themselves with a respectable set of songs, owing much to Mike Mogis' production skills. Their tunes are a bit lighter than Bright Eyes, both lyrically and instrumentally. They have a jazzier, piano-based sound that leans more toward 70s light rock or even Kind of Like Spitting (especially in the vocals department). All in all, Son, Ambulance's musical levity provides a fine compliment to Bright Eyes' more somber moments (and it's good that Son isn't a Bright Eyes clone). I do think it was a wise decision to sequence the songs in the manner that they did (each Son, Ambulance song is followed by a Bright Eyes song, and so on) because I may not have given Son as much of a chance if I could have avoided their songs in one large lump. Also on the positive side is the fact that, despite there being only four songs from each band, they're all pretty long, so you get over forty minutes of music. A lot of bands can't muster that much music for a full-length.
Plus: a fine coupling of two distinct songwriting styles
Minus: lyrics layout could be better
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3