Reviews

The People's Key

Author: L. Kent Wolgamott
2/14/11 | Lincoln Journal Star | www.journalstar.com | Record Review
With this, the first Bright Eyes album in four years, Conor Oberst shelves the Americana that had been the anchor of his sound of late, bringing back the synths of 2005's "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and combining them with the quirky singer/songwriter/folkie elements that made him an indie rock wunderkind a decade ago. Unlike other Bright Eyes efforts, which have featured guests such as Emmylou Harris, M. Ward and Gillian Welch, "The People's Key," which comes out Tuesday, is largely an all-Omaha production, recorded at ARC Studio with Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, the other permanent members of Bright Eyes and with players from The Faint and Cursive. The exception to the Nebraska rule is Randy Brewer, a Texas musician whom Oberst met on the road and whose spoken word ramblings open and close the album and pop up on a few songs in the middle. His mystical talk is more than a little offsetting. But as disjointed as it is, it fits or maybe even sets the album's theme of spiritual searching. Oberst is an equal opportunity seeker, scattering references to Rastafarianism across the songs, titling one "Haile Selassie," dipping into Eastern religions for phrases like "the wheel of becoming erases the physical mind" and dropping a reference to "father, son and ghost" on in the hooky "Triple Spiral." "Ladder Song," the disc's penultimate song, spins it all together -- Buddha, Jesus, a new age, dancers, celebration -- with Oberst's vulnerable voice set against a stately piano. None of this is preachy or even all that straightforward. Oberst didn't get the "new Dylan" tag years ago for nothing. In fact, his constant changes, obscurity and undercutting of his and his music's importance is right out of Robert Zimmerman's book. Having followed Oberst since he was a young teen playing Duffy's Tavern in front of a stack of amps taller than he was, I am struck that Oberst, now 31, has made a grown-up record, confidently combining his innate restlessness with a pop sensibility. Weeks ago, Oberst had hinted that "The People's Key" would be the final Bright Eyes album. Lately, he's backed away from that. But this could still be it for the project that put Oberst on the musical map. If it is, Bright Eyes is going out with a rich, accessible, mysterious effort that brings Oberst, Mogis and Walcott back to the center of indie rock with grace and depth. Grade: B+
The People's Key

The People's Key

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The People's Key

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