That'd be misunderstanding Bright Eyes' back catalog, however: Oberst dealt with the small, personal issues that come with growing up in the Baby Boomers' shadow, from old-fashioned alienation and apathy to struggles against that omnipresent sense of disenchantment that permeates the lives of Generation X and Y. Whether it's through tales of love and loss or indie-rock bohemians, Bright Eyes' tunes intuitively grasped all the little worries, tiny fears and unsaid hopes of his compatriots.
On the Four Winds EP, he just shifts from minding the small issues to the big ones, mainly commentary on the nation's political situation, and the teeny-tiny ones, mostly the hard-knock world of being Conor Oberst. In the process, he drops both the electro-pop of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005, Saddle Creek) and the acoustic-indie of I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005, Saddle Creek) in an attempt to tap into a more primeval power, that of salt-of-the-earth Americana.
The change isn't entirely successful. Oberst's always been best at confessional tunes that hid broader self-revelatory issues beneath their facade. The Four Winds EP -- which is really just a lead single and five B-sides from the act's upcoming Cassadaga -- finds Oberst feeling his way into commentaries on the national soul in a time of war ("Four Winds") and awkward musings on the nature of liberty ("Stray Dog Freedom"). They're tunes that seem to find Oberst caught midway between a punk-rock rabble-rouser and his role as indie rock's poet laureate, never coming off quite as pointed and direct as his subjects need. Flipping back to nondescript folk-rock only underscores this, as fiddles, acoustic guitar and a self-sustained sense of righteousness hint at everything from folk's legendary everymen to Neil Young.
Oberst's obviously more at home when retreating inside himself for an honest, if vain, reflection on growing up as an indie-rock spectacle ("Tourist Trap" and "Cartoon Blues"), or an ode to a departed songwriter -- possibly Elliott Smith -- that's guided Oberst's songwriting ("Reinvent the Wheel"). Although they're some of Oberst's least universal themes yet, he plays them off with enough charisma to save them.
Cassadaga is still a month out -- long enough to let fans hold to hope that Bright Eyes kept its best stash for the full-length. As it is, Four Winds is little more than a teaser and a reminder of Oberst's eccentric lyrical outlook than a reason to salivate for the band's upcoming full-length.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3