Oh Holy Fools
Split CDs are almost always nonessential CDs; often geared towards completist fans of the two featured bands, they usually don't make good "introduction" records. Instead, the best Splits offers a rare musical pleasure; in a world in which bands are too often obsessed with proving themselves in the first 30 seconds of the first track of their CDs, the Split lets committed fans hear works-in-progress, artistic
experiments, and the small stylistic steps taken between a band's "big" records.
Oh Holy Fools: The Music of Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes, is one of the most substantial and rewarding Split CDs I've ever heard, making full and creative use of and even innovating upon the "Split CD" form to powerful effect. The two bands splitting this full-length CD are Saddle Creek Records' flagship artist, the justly praised Bright Eyes (a.k.a. Conor Oberst) and Son, Ambulance, the band of Joe Knapp, a friend of Oberst whose only previous release was an earlier Bright Eyes Split released by Insound.com as tour support.
Though it's odd that these two bands would collaborate on two records in a row, the new Split is a tremendous improvement over the last one, swapping out an answering-machine quality recording for a high-fidelity, if intentionally loose, sound, and staggering the bands' tracks to create a more unified effect. Producer Mike Mogis, who worked brilliantly with Oberst on Bright Eyes' last three Saddle Creek releases, here gives each band a distinct sound and yet intentionally courts stylistic overlaps. The unified sound of this record (which is titled "Oh Holy Fools: the Music of...." to stress collaboration) makes it a unique pleasure among Split CDs, but the songs themselves and the way Mogis recorded them provide an especially compelling glimpse into the subtle changes of presentation and intention time is effecting on these two artists.
While Oberst's songs shone in the last Split's sparse setting, Knapp's seemed a little bare. Here, Mogis has fleshed them out with piano, vibes, and dynamic rhythmic changes, highlighting their bossa nova elements and setting Knapp's sunny chords and lazy drawl in arrangements that pleasantly recall the jazzier mid-70's work of songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Tim Hardin. Meanwhile Mogis has recorded Bright Eyes in a way that mixes the acoustic feel of 2000's amazing Fevers and Mirrors with the ragged intensity of Oberst's earlier work on records like 1998's Letting Off the Happiness. For his part, Oberst has turned in the first four Bright Eyes songs to seriously flirt with something resembling happiness. The raw pain of Bright Eyes' previous work is perpetually present, but in each songs, to different degrees, joy, warmth, and love are allowed to win in ways that may be only small or temporary but nontheless are definite. And a happy song in the hands of Conor Oberst has a similar quality to a happy song in the hands of depressives like Lou Reed: it feels real and earned.
The dual changes of Son, Ambulance's style and Bright Eyes' songwriting approach are ultimately what make this disc rewarding both as a major record and a Split window-into-the-workshop. Defying the classifications of both "major" and "minor" release, this is simply a great record, one that captures a moment of vital importance in the artistic evolution of these two songwriters.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3