Reviews

Fevers and Mirrors

Author: Scott Hatch
06/16/2000 | Tidal Wave Magazine | www.tidalwavemag.com | Album Review
To my ears, this is the maddening result of an emo conversion of Jeff Magnum (NMH). While the music is varied and intricate, using a wide range of recording techniques and mixing styles, the vocals are clearly the focus at every moment on this record. But, this is no mere singer/songwriter drivel. Conor Oberst sings with a wavering tension akin to emo forefather Jeremy Enigk, having a nearly raging forefulness at times. There is pain even in tenderly whispered lyrics. Maybe he's the screwed up Elliot Smith, not the kind that can't be trusted to be alone with your daughter, but that can't be trusted to be alone with the sharp knives.

The lyrics are brilliantly poetic, concentrated genius. Oberst is haunted, living in a darkened world; there is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Whether true or poetic license, it is all so very real and believable; we are not just invited, but forced into this space. So many lyrical phrases are memorable and quotable, but I'll spare the laundry list.

The instruments are varied, varying to a more darker country influence than the standard indie rock/pop canon. Oberst includes hammer dulcimer, mandolin, pedal steel, and accordion. Is Bright Eyes the slightly poppier version of the spooky macabre Sixteen Horsepower or an even updated Violent Femmes?

A small surprise is that Tim Kasher of the emo band Cursive (also Saddle Creek labelmates) plays accordion on several songs. At times, Oberst's vocal phrasing and intensity rivals that of Kasher; borrowed elements lie hidden in the melodic structures and recording approach at times. These unsung emo kids most definitely had some affect on this project.

The recording takes chances with odd atmospheric inclusions, noises, and radio samples. These intertwine with the music in an edgy, yet bleakly natural way. The album begins with a child reading from a cold and dark story in a broken pattern. The near end of the album includes a lengthy mock interview, offering plenty of contradictory responses to an over the top college radio interviewer stereotype.

In the end, I am left with the powerful vocals and spooked lyrics rolling over and over inside my head, now infected by Oberst's exorcised demons.
Fevers and Mirrors

Fevers and Mirrors

LP / CD / MP3