Reviews

A Collection of Songs Written and...

05/01/1998 | Shagg | Live Show Preview
What were you doing when you were 16? Probably what most people were doing. Filling up your time with school and friends. Getting your driver's license. Going to parties, going to shows. Maybe you were even in a band. It's doubtful that you could match up to Conor Oberst, though. Oberst is in two bands, serving as the singer-songwriter for Comm. Venus and as drummer/co-songwriter for Park Ave. Yet he still managed to find time for his own project, Bright Eyes. All this talk about age may sound like qualifying Oberst's music, but for someone of any age and experience, Bright Eyes is an impressive piece of work.
Bright Eyes is a collection of twenty songs gathered from four different sessions of four-track recordings that Oberst did from 1995-1997. At times the songs can get to be a bit, well, annoying I guess is the right word, but hey, it's OK for a teenager with a four track to get carried away. But the positives far outnumber those minor miscues on this album, which definitely rewards the listener who spins it rather frequently. In other words, the kid grows on you.
Oberst is kind of like a young, not as (at least not yet) depressed Lou Barlow. His lo-fi, DIY is apparent as, save a few minor exceptions, he wrote and played everything on the album and recorded it all himself in his basement. You can even hear the phone ringing in the background of the middle of one song, just to show the conditions these songs were recorded in. In the liner notes, Oberst says that this was never intended to be released, but with such a fine offering of songs, there's really no reason for modesty. The tracks on the album are, for the most part, simple songs with Oberst singing while playing acoustic guitar, sometimes adding drum tracks later on. This uncomplicated arrangement is the one that works best for him. The more stripped down and personal the songs are, the better. This is perfectly shown by the track "Puelta Quam Amo Est Pulcha," a song that is genuinely beautiful. When he starts fooling around with keyboards and other electronic instruments, the songs start to lose focus. But Lou Barlow has made his mistakes too, right? Just because the slower songs seem to be Oberst's strong suit doesn't mean he can't speed it up as well. The strongest song on the album may be the upbeat pop gem "One Straw (Please)" which sounds instantly recognizable. It goes in the same vein as "Cut your hair" and "Web in Front" as indie-classics. There is no doubt that he can come up with hooks, and the scary thing is that is is the third on his depth chart of projects.
Vocally and lyrically Oberst shines as well. His voice actually sounds comforting. A bit nasally, a bit off-key, he just sounds honest. When he sings "My baby" on "Lila" it makes you want to rewind the cd and just listen to him say it again and again. In fact, I did just that three times. And his words have the same effect on you sometimes. It's amazing to me that someone my age wrote these lyrics. I mean, there's a reason why all of my songs that I write are instrumentals. Oberst's lyrics are not your typical high school journal entries. On "Saturday As Usual" he sings "And me I'm in my bedroom drawing in my notebook/ 'cause my hand thinks I'm an artist but my heart knows I'm a poet." That's my favorite out of many memorable lines. A little more meaningful than something like "I smell sex and candy," don't you think?
Bright Eyes shows off the undeniable talent of Conor Oberst. For a high school kid recording in less than ideal conditions, it is a remarkable album. For a rock veteran recorded at a studio by Butch Vig, it's still a remarkable album. Conor Oberst without a doubt has got a bright future ahead.

(Ed. Note: I love so much of this CD!! You're not going to find it in stores, so if you're interested: Write Saddle Creek Records, po box 8554, omaha, ne 68108 email: CreekRec@aol.com or visit their web site: http://members.aol.com/CreekRec)


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