The People's Key
Author: Evan Tokarz
2/16/11 | Creative Loafing | www.creativeloafing.com | Record Review
The release of Bright Eyes' The People's Key marks singer-songwriter Conor Oberst's 18th year of releasing music. The 30-year-old creative force and leader of the band has progressed from making obscure lo-fi recordings to critically-lauded multi-member odysseys, and has been lauded as "the new Dylan" by the press for his lyrical style, relevance and content.The question that remains after all this: What has he learned?The People's Key offers answers from an unlikely source: Rastafarianism. A recurring theme of the album ? rumored to be the band's last ? is the concept of "I and I," a philosophy that emphasizes oneness among all people.Yet, it's not so cut and dry. Oberst also draws on the vibe from 2007's spiritually-infused Cassadaga. Both records appeal to the metaphysical and the mystical, The People's Key opening with the otherworldly ramblings of Denny Brewer, a member of the Team Love band Refried Ice Cream. Credited in the liner notes for contributing "shamanic vocals," Brewer sets the stage for the album with his reflections on reptilian humans, Sumerian tablets, and the expansion of space."Shell Games" begins simply with spare piano and leaps abruptly into power chords and synth solos that somehow escape cheesiness. The track, like the rest of the album, is a sonic mix of two of the band's most recent outputs: the textured esoteric folk of Cassadaga and the electronically-dominated Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. Cassadaga in ambiance, Digital Ash in sound."Triple Spiral" is a rock song, nothing more complicated about it than that. Crashing drums and thundering guitars from a band that prefers experimentation are a nice touch. Similarly, "Beginner's Mind" rocks hard for a group with a lead singer known for his vulnerable nature. Though Oberst is using his David Dondero-like quaver, the backing band sounds alot like Oberst's punk-inspired group, Desaparecidos.If the rumors are true about this being the final album from Bright Eyes, what's the final message we're left with? "One For You, One for Me" ends the record with a contented vibe that wouldn't be out of place in Jamaica, Oberst returning to his theme of "I and I" as he sings "You and me, you and me / that is an awful lie /It's I and I / It's I and I." Instead of concluding the song with an answer about what he's learned so far in his musical career, he asks a question: "How did we get so / far away from us?"Perhaps, then, the answer comes from Brewer's closing rant, which touches on the importance of compassion, love, and the final word of the album ? mercy.