Reviews

Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Author: George Paul
01/28/2005 | OC Register | www.ocregister.com | Album Review
The new Dylan? That eyebrow-arching comparison is apt for Conor Oberst, a 24-year-old Omaha, Neb., singer/songwriter who records albums under the moniker Bright Eyes and has cultivated a fervent following in recent years. One high-profile fan, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, persuaded him to join the recent "Vote for Change" tour with Bruce Springsteen.

The sprawling 2002 album "Lifted " showed flashes of brilliance, garnered a Shortlist Prize nomination and critical acclaim galore (not to mention frequent mentions by character Seth on Fox TV's "The O.C."). Now, Oberst has unveiled two compelling discs (one countrified, one electronic) that cement his status as modern music's resident young genius.

The folksy "Wide Awake" features Emmylou Harris and members of My Morning Jacket, Rilo Kiley and the Faint. It opens with a narrative, then segues into the freewheeling "At the Bottom of Everything." Politics shade many of the lyrics.

"Digital Ash" finds Oberst singing about mortality and skillfully exploring electronica textures with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Postal Service programmer Jimmy Tamborello. The icy keyboards often recall early The The. Then there's the Paul Simon (circa "Graceland")-styled percussive wonder "Arc of Time."

Oberst's quavering voice is heartbreaking one minute, defiant the next. More structured, passionate and incisive than ever, Bright Eyes is sure to win over new converts with "Digital Ash," while alt-country enthusiasts should embrace "Wide Awake."

"Wide Awake": A-; "Digital Ash": A (George A. Paul/Special to the Register)


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