Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Author: David Sprague
This disc, the more rock-oriented of Conor Oberst's simultaneous 2005 releases, is certainly the most ambitious undertaking of the Nebraskan expatriate's career, veering as it does from detached electronica to neo-glam. But while the sonic trappings are unlike those of any previous Bright Eyes outing, the core sentiments -- and erudite lyrics -- remain the same. On "Down in a Rabbit Hole," Oberst exudes his usual longing, but rather than mutter about it with a reticence that makes the listener feel like an eavesdropper, he takes a stance that's practically rock star-esque. The more amped-up backing -- helmed by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner -- also goes a long way toward sharpening the (self-directed) barbs secreted within the alcohol-sodden "Hit the Switch." Oberst's never been shy about examining the uglier side of life, a space he illustrates quite effectively on the woozy, nightmarish "Easy/Lucky/Free." Digital Ash isn't, however, all gloom and doom: "Light Pollution," for instance, lopes along coquettishly with a Roxette-like spring in its step (belying, of course, the fact that it concerns a seemingly fatal auto accident). Taken as a whole, the disc has a vibe that's reminiscent of David Bowie's made-in-Berlin albums (Low, The Lodger) -- and that blend of elegance and seediness makes Oberst a compelling, if potentially tragic, character.