Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....
After all the praise, Oberst still doesn't seem satisfied. In addition to constant touring with Bright Eyes and the release of a well-received EP precursor to this album, Oberst of course also spent quite some time rocking out as his angsty alter-ego fronting his emo band Desaparecidos. But nothing could have prepared us for the ambition of his first bona-fide album above the radar line.
An example of how much this album has in it to discover,I didn't realize until a few moments ago, when listening to the album for the first time on headphones, that there's a female voice fading in and out of the track, gently reciting the lyrics above Oberst's pained, stark voice. The track is bare bones- Oberst and his guitar the only instruments- but under the surface there are important elements in everything from the afore mentioned female voice to the sounds of movement and doors closing in the background. In all honesty I spent the first 20 or so listens to Lifted starting out with the second track, generally skipping "The Big Picture". It was difficult to embrace but now, after becoming familiar with the rest of the album (and listening to it on headphones) I have warmed to the entire 8 and a half minutes of it. It is a bold statement for an opening track- poignant, prophetic lyrics and subliminal elements- but it is only a shade of what this album has to offer.
"Method Acting" is the first rollicking number of the album and is easily one of the first sparks in listening to it, with a memorable introduction and tempo shifts to keep it interesting while Oberst continues his state-of-the-soul address. The following track, "False Advertising", is the first of a handful of tracks that call to mind visual elements of The Shining with its orchestral waltz and Oberst's constant, gentle tones. Only a fourth of the way into Lifted it is evident, even from the first listen, that it is a work of staggering intricacy and a complete composition.
The first time through Lifted I'd been waiting for something to happen from the moment I put the album on, and "Lover I Don't Have to Love" is that something- four minutes of pulpy Youth Americana that can grip both the skinny indie girl in the thrift store tee and the mean stressed-out bitch behind the counter at the Gap. With its light melody bobbing above a catchy, danceable drum beat "Lover I Don't Have to Love" details the events of a young, violent one-night romance blooming back stage and up the stairs to an apartment. This track is what I was expecting the entire album to sound like and, in a sense, still do- Oberst's ability to combine synthetic aesthetics with a coarse, warm intimacy is hardly rivaled.
Lifted shifts gears with virtually every track but never seems to really get lost or disjointed... after only a pair of listens the album's sequence seemed to carry a rhythm of its own that added even more. There are pleasant moments that solidly convey a strong songwriting hand and there are those which jump out more distinctly as an echo of Dylan coming into is own for the first time. The tracks have statements- about authority, about materialism, about self-loathing and self-denial and self-discovery- but they are as poetic and artful as they are sentimental and political. There are shorter, radio-friendly numbers such as "From a Balance Beam" and there are also longer, more drawn out sequences such as "Don't Know When But a Day is Gonna Come" with its explosions, sustained cadences, and whispered, secular lines.
As a collection of songs, Lifted puts Fevers & Mirrors firmly in the past, turning the page completely and making grand artistic strides. An adequate review for the album could go on for pages, nearly every song strong enough to be a single even though individually they are sharp contrasts of each other. Each song is different yet each song represents the entire album. Spanning nearly an hour and a quarter, Lifted spreads its diamonds out in a sea of sapphires, leaving album-makers like "From a Balance Beam" for the next to last track. The album ends with a couple of alt-twang numbers that, as country songs go are a bit hokey but as far as indie rock songs go are pretty inspired.
If Connor Oberst and his Bright Eyes aren't a household name after this album I'll be surprised. Quite possibly the best album of the year.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3