Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Author: Kevchino
01/26/2005 | | | Album Review
Am I seeing double? No. Saddle Creek's prolific Connor Oberst has released, not a double album, nor a trilogy, but two, simultaneously recorded yet vastly different projects. "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" is one of the two new Bright Eyes works and represents his more electronic, pop music influences. The other album "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" is based more in Conor Oberst's folk sound. "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn"'s lyrics focus on the fear of death.but in a festive and dream-like way. The prolific Captain Conor and crew of the S.S. Omaha recruit some heavy weights for this electronic project. Shipmates include leader of electronic music Jimmy Tamberello of the Postal Service/Dntel, Clark Beachle of The Faint and guitar and keyboard cameos by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Bright Eyes and his guests, make an attempt at converting this young folk singer into electronic musician, with the use of keyboards, programming, and drum machines. Keep reading to find out if they succeed . . .

The album begins with the surreal "Time Code": ambient keyboards, distorted drums, and samples of back ground noise compiled upon layers of tracks. Conor's voice pokes through the mix with a short verse. Shortly after the song begins an alarm clock rings waking us up from the dreamy track and carrying the listener into "Gold Mine Gutted." This catchy lullaby is a very Cure-ish track with its use of simplistic keyboard melodies and Conor's romantic howls. "Arc Of Time (Time Code)" is an upbeat digital track backed with Spanish guitar licks by producer Mike Mogis. The song has a festive Caribbean flavor mixed with a tinge of Violent Femmes. The moody "Down In A Rabbit Hole" keeps a steadfast distorted beat by Rilo Kiley's Jason Boesel met with screeching guitars shrilled by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, backed with lush string arrangements and vocal melodies from Maria Taylor, as Conor sings "If your thoughts should turn to death | You've got to stomp them out like a cigarette." The playful chart-topping single "Take it Easy (Love Nothing)" uses eighties keyboards by Nick of the YYY's and Conor's upbeat guitar jangles along with backwards drum programming delivered by the notorious Jimmy Tamberello. The effervescent song has a pre-written application to be on a modern day Pretty in Pink soundtrack.

The uncanny intro of "I Believe In Symmetry," borrows, note-for-note, the melody of 1984's "99 Luftballons" by Nena, which then takes flight into a full fledge rock track. The manic, guitar-heavy song is the loudest on the album and features some chaotic guitar work from Nick of YYY's then slowly winds down with the rescuing help of the string ensemble. The album takes a quick turn into rock land with tracks "Ship In A Bottle" and Light Pollution." Think The Police on acid (Yes, Sting on LSD) doing show tunes fused with some of the more rocking, manic moments of 2002's "Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground." Towards the end of the album you'd think Conor and crew had dropped some "E" (don't ask if you don't know) or recently returned from a relaxing vacation in the Bahamas. Think Nike Drake if he were contracted to write the soundtrack to the "Pirates of The Caribbean" with Depeche Mode. The tropical, sun-drenched track "Theme To Piņata" uses a crisp, up-front acoustic guitar that shares the stage with island flavored percussion, drums and even some vibes. There are also some nice backing vocals melodies once again from Maria Taylor. "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" closes with "Easy/Lucky/Free" which is so smooth-sailing you might think you're lying in a hammock. It sounds as if O.M.D (don't ask if you don't know) head-lined on an island cruise ship. In the chorus, Conor and Maria repetitively harmonize "Don't you Weep" in an eighties reggae fashion. But in the verse Oberst breaks off and speaks of a condo on the coast. See, I told you there was some sort of vacation inspiration involved. The song ends with some feed back with the end of the song playing over and over it self into oblivion.

Wow this is a definite new turn for the 24-year-old Bright Eyes. Conor and crew sailed this vessel into uncharted territories and succeeded in looting the electronica sound and combining it with Bright Eyes natural treasures. "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" is as experimental as when Beck veered of his singer-songwriter path to create "Midnight Vultures" but covers vastly more ground. Conor's voice, which I usually find quite grating at times, is consistently calm and relaxed during the album. "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" is quite a unique album. The young patch-less doe eye's lyrics indeed focus on the fear of death, but the festive music he made with his friends takes us on a wild journey from Electronica, to Pop, to Folk, to psychedelic, and even to island grooves. Aloha, Captain Conor, your new concept is not unlike an electronica version of The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour."