Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....
Author: Paul Leeds
I have a confession: I like Bright Eyes. For the legions of fans of the Midwest wunderkind, this is not much of an admission, but I still feel I better start carrying a knife when I go out in Hollywood. You see, I had heard an earlier Bright Eyes record, and the way he just goes completely off the page and sings like his head's going to explode, and lays his diary open for anyone to read, just didn't work for me. A few weeks ago I heard a catchy little song and didn't know who it was by. The song started with off-kilter piano melody and a jaded singer kicked down some wickedly clever lines. "I want a girl who is too sad to give a fuck / where's the kid with the chemicals / I thought he said to meet him here but I'm not so sure" He sounded like Rivers Cuomo and Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. Who was it? Yes, it was "A Lover I Don't Have To Love" by Bright Eyes. The band adored by 13 year-old fat girls, by the kind of fans who camp outside hotel rooms. What the hell! So I looked him up. Conor Oberst, as everyone knows, was a prodigy who started recording at 13. The rock highway is littered with amazing talents manifested early: Alex Chilton, Glenn Phillips, Paul Weller, &c. So cut the "kid" some slack, he's 23 now. What I didn't know, is that Oberst's former band, Commander Venus, made two records that drew comparisons to Sunny Day and Superchunk. "Lifted" is his fourth album with Bright Eyes. Beginner's luck and the sophomore slump are long since buried under a mountain of evidence that he really is talented. Who is unmoved by raw lyrics such as: "like when I fell under the weight of a schoolboy crush / I started carrying her books and doing lots of drugs / I almost forgot who I was but I came to my senses" It's honesty and familiarity: the lyrics sound like your best friend confiding in you. It's not a rockstar pose. Unlike some bands that say they don't care if you like them, I believe Bright Eyes truly does not care in the slightest. He's so focused on his own musical journey that fans are practically incidental. There has been some talk about Conor's voice, and after getting into "Lifted," I can say those are statements stem from ignorance or jealousy. (He did date Winona Ryder after all.) After 6 albums, yeah, he can sing. It's his approach that rankles: one song will be voice and guitar and a foot beating time, sounding like a home demo, another song will have full band plus strings, yet another fills the room with out of tune piano and people stumbling into the recording accidentally. It is unvarnished. The blood and the pain are part of the particular grain of Bright Eyes' music. You get what he decides to give you. That's why "Lifted" doesn't gel as an album: it's more of a diary entry of his mental state. The music is focused and intense, no filters or second-guessing, just a harrowing jaunt through a very literary and febrile mind. "So you can struggle in the water and be too stubborn to die / or you could just let go and be lifted to the sky" So, yeah, I was wrong about him.