The People's Key
Author: Kevin O'Hare
2/14/11 | Masslive.com | www.masslive.com | Record Review
In the end, it all comes down to mercy.After the cosmic raves about ancient aliens, new-age mind-spinning and Rastafarian ideals, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst ultimately concludes it all comes down to just one word.Not a bad conclusion for an album that might leave one wondering about a lot of things - including the past and the future of humanity. And after all, not many artists are capable of leaving that kind of lingering impression on their listeners.This is Bright Eyes' seventh album, as Oberst has settled into a permanent trio lineup that also includes stringman/percussionist Mike Mogis and keyboardist Nathaniel Walcott.Recorded in Omaha, the disc starts with a twist courtesy of narrator Denny Brewer a Texas musician friend of Oberst's who starts things off with the words "If there is no such thing as time, you are already there and you're controlling the cycle."So strap yourselves in for a wild ride. By the time he's done ruminating on our alien ancestors, he's set a mood that's more than a shade off-center, buoyed by the musical part of the track, and then straight into the twang-time pop tale of paradigms and visions of death ("Shell Games") and the pulsating percolating rhythms of "Jejune Stars."Guitars provide the gritty foundation for "Haile Selassie," as Oberst contemplates that "all of our days are numbered," all the while seeking something greater, watching the chosen people, the wildest scenes, scattered dreams and even stranger things.There's a deliberate distance in many of the dense soundscapes, exemplified on the heavily programmed "A Machine Spiritual (In The People's Key)," before things settle toward the back half of the album thanks to the garage-band kind of surging pop that defines "Triple Spiral," and the stark, piano beauty of "Ladder Song," complete with references to Jesus and Buddha.Brewer makes occasional brief appearances elsewhere on the disc, returning for the steadily climbing finale, "One for You, One for Me," which features a heavenly Oberst vocal, a musical fade and then the return of the narrator who contemplates the meaning of love, enlightenment, peace and knowledge. There's the power of breaking away from burdens and bitterness. There's the freedom found in letting the past go. And there's the answer in discovering mercy.Tracks to download: "Ladder Song," "One for You, One for Me."