Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Author: Greg
01/29/2005 | | | Album Review
Bright Eyes has never been just about the prairie rock, despite labels thrust upon him to the contrary. One of the best songs on 2002's amazing Lifted... was Lover I Don't Have To Love, a techno tale of drugs and clubs.  Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is that song stretched out over twelve tracks of varying effectiveness.  One of the reasons Lover... was such a standout song was that it stood out, it was the hot digital jewel in a layered mess of folk and rock. With Digital Ash... that aspect of uniqueness is stripped away as beats blend into beats blend into beats. Bright Eyes meshes other instrumentation into the electronic fold, finding nooks for his friends most successfully a string quartet, bringing to mind The Faint, another Saddle-Creek release melding classical with Casio. That a folk singer most known for his stripped down honesty and rowdy 'anything goes' recording process would make an album hidden behind sequencers and keyboard might seem antithetical to some, but it is more like a reflection than counterpoint.  As the song I Believe In Symmetry goes, "I raise my glass to symmetry." Digital Ash is a balance for Bright Eyes, a trip through the mirror, into the looking glass.
Time Code, the album opener is the least engaging track but the most interesting. People familiar with previous Bright Eyes releases know all about long dragging nonsensical intros, usually lo-fi recordings of people talking. With Time Code, that Bright Eyes tradition is transformed perfectly into its digital counterpart.  But as theoretically engaging as that is, it's still way boring to listen to.  In fact the album doesn't really hit its stride until track five, the single Love Nothing (Take It Easy). Love Nothing... with fuzzed out guitars by Nick Zimmer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, brings a light bouncy keyboard beat into sync with a traditional Bright Eyes song of rejection. Love Nothing (Take It Easy)'s lyrics "the weatherman's a liar he said it would be raining," are rivaled by the other great track Ship In A Bottle's chorus "Don't adore what's impossible, we have built this ship in a wine bottle / but if you knew how it works we'd have to grow old" for the line you'll have stuck in your head for the longest time. Light Pollution could have been written for I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning with its simple tale of the life and tragic death of a close friend, but being set to an electronic backbeat, it ended up on Digital Ash...
Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is a whole new perspective brought to a stale genre. Bright Eyes samples a scream of fear and makes it into a hook; a baby crying and makes it into a post chorus touchstone. It cannot be written off as an experiment in genre bending; every song on Digital Ash is well composed and self contained. Digital Ash In A Digital Urn demands attention as a complete album of its own rather than as just a passing fancy of an artist from a different scene. As an expression of the times we live in, Digital Ash is a milestone. A country boy from Omaha, Nebraska can reinvent himself in a different world, comment on it, master it, and make a great album out of the experience.