The People's Key
Author: Hays Davis
3/2/11 | Richmond.com | www.richmond.com | Live Show Preview
It's to Conor Oberst's credit that he continues to make Bright Eyes an ever-evolving entity. The band may be the vehicle for the music of singer/songwriter Oberst, but the sense of a collective, rather than a guy with hired guns, has always added strength to what Bright Eyes conveys.Settled, now, into a solid core of Oberst, multi-instrumentalist/producer Mike Mogis and keyboard/trumpet player Nathaniel Walcott, along with selected musicians in the studio and on tour, Bright Eyes recently released "The People's Key," its seventh studio album. Breaking from the folk-oriented sound that has defined much of its earlier work, the band seems to relish a broadening of its approach, as Oberst addresses lyrical topics, both human and cosmic.After a formative release of early solo tracks, Oberst took Bright Eyes toward a full-band sound with 1998's "Letting Off the Happiness," which was released on the label he co-founded, Saddle Creek. With 2002's "Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground," Bright Eyes reached national attention with its first commercial breakthrough. The simultaneous album releases of the folk-geared "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and the electronic-pop "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" in 2005 provided the band with separate top-20 entries on the Billboard album chart.Bright Eyes had developed a considerable following and garnered significant media attention by the time of the 2007 album, "Cassadega." However, Oberst and Mogis next took an unexpected step when they joined My Morning Jacket's Jim James and solo artist/She & Him member M. Ward as Monsters of Folk. Having become friends through their touring experiences, the quartet hit the road in support of their self-titled 2009 album.With "The People's Key," Bright Eyes realizes its current vision through the electronic pop of "Shell Games," the bracing, muscular rock of "Triple Spiral," and the melancholy piano that follows Oberst through "Ladder Song." Though Oberst has expressed interest in retiring the Bright Eyes moniker, its latest album indicates that there may be less reason than ever for him to feel that this name association carries any limits.