The People's Key
Author: John Gwynn
2/15/11 | Arizona State Press | www.statepress.com | Record Review
It may seem presumptuous, but Bright Eyes' new (and possibly last) album "The People's Key" is a game-changer for the band and for rock music. Why? Because Conor Oberst and crew have accomplished what many bands are afraid to do; they rebuilt their sound from the ground up.Where on previous albums you might get away with grabbing a few singles, you'll miss out if you do not hear the whole disc. While it may not be as alt-country as "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" or as electro-pop as "Digital Ash In A Digital Urn," "The People's Key" possess a fuller sound while maintaining a spitfire edge to the music."Shell Games" is a fun pop tune that borders on cheesy (just listen to those keyboards) but maintains its dignity. In contrast, the very next song, "Jejune Stars" begins with heavy-metal opening gives way to Arctic Monkeys-esque tune. These juxtapositions are prevalent throughout the album, which is a great thing. We, as listeners, are just along for the ride.Going out on a limb, the psychedelic "A Machine Spiritual (In The People's Key)" uses loops and layered vocals that will be a hit with any Modest Mouse or Arcade Fire enthusiast."Triple Spiral" is just too good. Hand claps, harmonies, space keyboards and loud guitars equal one hell of a tune. It could have had a '60s folk-rock vibe if done in the vein of the old Bright Eyes, but the more modern sound is enthralling.Fans of old the old stuff do not fear. Tracks like "Approximate Sunlight" and "Ladder Song" hint at a nostalgic side of the band. These tracks are bare bones and haunting and add soul to the project.Usually when faced with reviewing an album, there are songs you have to trudge through. Not in this case. Each track kept me going and kept me guessing. That's a true album.I wouldn't call it "pop rock," but it's an undeniably more modern direction for the band. Oberst has so many outlets for music that he is free to re-mold Bright Eyes into something new instead of reworking the old formula. Nothing seems off-limits on "The People's Key." Hopefully this rebirth will keep the band exploring new musical territories.