Reviews

Fevers and Mirrors

Author: Everett True
05/18/2001 | For NY Press | Album Review
Arab Strap/Bright Eyes
Brighton Concorde 2
Tuesday May 8

Pop music is a series of cliches, walked through by would-be dreamers in a half-daze.

There's no need for most of it. Indeed, most music merely serves to add to the suffocating aura of mediocrity that suffuses our everyday existence, dogs each movement. Conner Oberst, the tormented prodigal whiz kid who fronts Bright Eyes, hugging his chair like the emotional cripple he is, only rising to stand on feet so unsteady and with shoulders so rounded you fear for his future life, understands all this. He's trying, somehow, to rectify the balance - but the cost! Every word is screamed out, each guitar chord torn from somewhere it's probably better left hidden simmering. "There are some things you can't fake," he screams out suddenly on "February Fifteenth" before lurching into another slice of rhythmic splendour - and believe me, Bright Eyes do rhythmic splendour better than anyone, sometimes even forgetting to strike their guitars as they bash and brawl and try to keep up with life's bitter tempo. The shimmering beauty that songs like "Drunk Kid Catholic", with its decaying piano chords and aspirations to be part of the Flaming Lips repertoire, possess on CD are almost lost in Connor's turbulent desire to avoid mediocrity at all costs. The pedal steel is still wailing plaintively, but all is forgotten when tout ensemble drop instruments and shoulder the chorus woman to man. Even at the tender age of 21, especially at the age of 21, Connor understands how everything turns to shit - you can see it in the way he holds his shoulders, the way he roars "everybody" in the middle of a heartrending "If Winter Ends" in a forlorn hope that we all understand too and that we'll drop everything and sing along on the wordless chorus and be his goddamn friends. "It's going to be all right," he keeps muttering to himself, over and over, like a disillusioned Daniel Johnston as the keyboard feeds out white noise. "I had a brother once/He drowned in a bathtub before he'd ever learned how to talk/And I don't know what his name was/But my mother does," he cries on "Padraic My Prince" in an uncanny saddened echo of Smog's "Bathysphere". The band, too, are at odds with this hands-out, fixed grin world - the lad on bass, gawky and looking all of 12, the girl with spectacles sitting legs askew on another stool, everyone switching around because none of this makes sense. Connor has already released five albums, and you know why, you know that there is no possible way he can be around at this level of intensity, this level of beauty, this level of distortion, for many more years.

Life is a series of cliches, wandered through by a series of dumb, stupid, insensitive people with no concept of beauty. It's almost like nothing matters. Of course I didn't stick around to see Arab Strap.
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