Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Leo Deresa
01/26/2005 | | | Album Review
Okay, bear with me on this one…remember the story of the country mouse and the city mouse from when you were little? Back when stories had meanings at once simple and profound… that although easily spooned in, you being at the cup with a lid stage couldn't really repackage or regurgitate their "meaning" so deftly?

Well, to refresh your over-saturated and over stimulated memory, the country mouse and city mouse are cousins, virtually identical in certain superficial features, yet each is profoundly and psychically marked by their separate environs. Well, the two swap locations, or so my own deteriorated recollection suggests, and what we come to find out about the country mouse, seemingly so naïve and simple, the sort of simple we regard and excuse politely with euphemisms—integrity---honesty, well it turns out he's really a very sophisticated and complex individual. And it turns out the honesty that he takes with him, his closeness to the soil, is more real and palpable and grounded than we ever thought because we've sort of conveniently omit it from the realm of possibility for him, and this makes it even more surprising and refreshing to us, somewhere in our affected angst or our perfected bitterness.

Okay, now's where we take our turn…Connor Oberst/Bright Eyes has, as you well may know, released two albums simultaneously this year. Let's consider "Digital Ash/Digital Urn" with it's electronic genre bending and it's emotive chronicle of our strange relationship to death through technologies of remembrance and recordation, to be the city mouse. That makes "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" the country mouse. Now, just fiddle with the implications of that for a minute. Read. Repeat. For this is no ordinary country mouse trip to the city, say from Omaha to Manhattan, this country mouse is more clever and sophisticated than you imagine.

Imagine country mouse in the City crashing from______ *insert depressant of choice i.e. alcohol, or stimulants like e or coke, anything that, come morning leaves you lower than the starting point and questioning the whole fucking pattern. It's an honesty that belies a complexity of thought and a sensitivity to the conveyance of structures that is both brilliant and elegant.

This is what you get from 24-year-old Oberst's second release. "I'm Wide Awake/It's Morning" like its simultaneously released digital double takes similar themes and tweaks them into a country/bluegrass/folk inspired meditation on mortality and modern contrivances that is, in my opinion, his most sophisticated work to-date.

In the interweaving of story-telling aspects with an intimate interior recordation of the isolation that is only possible in a city of over 8 million souls, Oberst has his finger on the substance that keeps us slogging through this modern existence, and he's strumming and picking and sliding around in it with a voice so raw and present that you can't help but feel the manic exuberance. This album swells with jubilant and enervating orchestration and a desperate hopefulness that surges to life with every slide and jangle of guitar.

It's that jangle and slide that hold within them a spurred hope, a raw optimism that beautifully compliments Oberst's lyrics, both are twanged with nostalgia for a past that will never come again, and maybe never was, except in our flawed and hopelessly hopeful memory. "I'm Wide Awake/It's Morning" is most alive when it is channeling a wealth of great song writing and story telling through the crushed glass kaleidoscope of Oberst's voice. This album resurrects the spirit of Dylan as a balladeer in the bittersweet "Hit the Switch", Leonard Cohen as a chronicler of ephemeral memory as in "Arc of Time" or "Poison Oak", the late great Johnny Cash, jangling and free in the Folsom Prison-esque "Another Traveling Song" and even Beethoven in the frenzied symphonic and downright manic "Rode to Joy." Oberst takes them all for a lonely walk through the streets of New York. Not bad company to keep.

This album is Connor's best song-writing yet, both contemporary and timeless. Oberst's more politically critical songs never forget the greater significance of current events, tying the absurdity of war to our uneasy complacency in tracks like "Land Locked Blues" and especially the aforementioned "Road to Joy" where his singing contorts into an urgent and pressing howl, "the sun came up with no conclusions the flowers sleeping in their bed…I'm wide awake it's morning, I have my drugs I have my woman it keeps away my loneliness. I read the body count out of the paper and now it's written all over my face" The accompaniment rises with frenetic energy, chaotic strings crash with tympanum and build to a scream of trumpets. The noise and screams, the blats and blares, are enough to wake the dead, or at least shake things up a bit.

Need a personal soundtrack for lonely nights of recrimination? This is it. Need to feel the roots of something beneath you again? This is it. Need a reminder that there is something there worth waking up to? Go. Get this. Listen. Repeat.