Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: Joe Stillwater
12/11/2002 | With It Girl | | Album Review
I used to live in a funky old three-bedroom (four if you're creative) flat in Capitola, CA, outside of Santa Cruz with three other students, and, as is so common the case, there were many issues that we were divided about. We often argued over who had to mop up the sticky, alcoholic, juice beverage called Boomerang from the night before, who's turn it was to tell Hari Kirtan that we didn't really feel like cleaning this week, or what was really going on with the tribe of wild children that lived in our backyard. But what we usually argued most about was choice of music.

I had received a huge stereo in the mail as part of some lame mail-order scam where they ship it to you without telling you, and then you have to pay for it, or pay to ship it back. So I ended up with this stereo. And, it being the largest stereo in the house, I put it in the living room. The thing was, before we started using the big stereo, everyone in the house already had their own, smaller stereos that didn't exactly have the range to reach the living room, but had just enough power so that if you were sitting in the LR, you were surrounded by a faint hum. All over the house there were, at any given time, at least three to four sound systems going off, and if you were in the LR, each of them could be heard faintly, in a mishmash of awkward off-beats and discordant melodies. So when we got the unifying sound system in a central area, it was like harmony had come to our household. Except that we had different musical tastes.

And so begins my review of the latest Bright Eyes record, Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, and as I remember the moss-smelling smell of the carpet and the coldness of the stagnated porcelain in the bathroom, I also remember the dividing Bright Eyes line that cut our old house in half. I had a decidedly non-Bright Eyes friendly stance. I felt that singer Conor Oberst was just, whoa, way too drunk and expressive about emotions that came off as two-dimensional, and yes his music was raw and mainly consisted of an acoustic guitar, but it was like wearing a leather coat your father gave you in order to accent how you had emotions that were just like your father's emotions. My housemate Rhys argued that Oberst, of course, really meant all the things that were croaking and squiggling out of his throat, and that in itself meant something, in turn, to Rhys. And these two arguments have been what I consistently hear about Bright Eyes in the few years that have passed between now and then. Rhys is in Africa, I'm in San Francisco. I'm sure everyone in Africa now loves Bright Eyes.

So now Bright Eyes has a new record; I am, in fact, really pretty taken with it. It could be that I appreciate emotional music now a little more due to recent dramatic events (which I won't go into, because I think I've already written too much about me), but I think it is mainly because I love the fresh arrangements and sincere melodies that start to percolate beginning with the second song (the first song reminded me of why I didn't really like Bright Eyes originally, you know, the absolute desperate ranting and what-not). Lifted is made-up pieces of some kind of folk magic that only knows how to belt out hearty songs, that feel the way that a good song should. Now, I didn't research this statement a lot, I'm kind of winging it, but I believe the actual music in Lifted, meaning the instruments, have come a long way from the acoustic guitar that I remember from my days at the flat. Lifted plays with many basic styles of American folk music; it really loves the melody and turns them into all that they were originally meant to be. There's no feeling that they are post-modern, derived country songs. They simply are country songs, coming from a voice that is fresh. I don't mean the kind of country that people mean when they say "I like all kinds of music, except country." I'm referring to the music that was just music from the small towns and around the highways, before it became something called "Country" and had its own section at Virgin Megastore.

I'm not going to go into each individual song and break it down, because it's better just to hear it. What I'm trying to convey is the album as a whole. It's not particularly sad, but it is emotional. And that means it samples from all over the Feeling spectrum. It's loving, it's angry, it's upset, it's crazy and cracked-out, it's happy, and basically it is what people are, which is moody and inconsistent, but in a particular sort of way. Like how you know that your Editor-in-Chief might be pissed about editing a long music review, or that later she might be happy about some boy, but you know that no matter what, she's always the kind of person that always likes to dance.

Not to say that this is particularly a dancing album (though it does have its moments), I'd say it's more of a drivin' and yellin' kind of album. And that's what I say about most albums that I like a lot. But I think it'd also have been a good sitting-around-the-old-house-and-drawing-pictures-with-your-housemates-in-a-central area-and-living-harmoniously-kind-of-album too. So check it out.