The People's Key
Author: Ryan Marr
3/3/11 | Fredericksburg.com | www.fredericksburg.com | Live Show Preview
While most bands lure listeners into a record with a catchy leadoff single, or at least an accessible melody, Bright Eyes songwriter Conor Oberst has always taken a risk by opening with spoken-word introductions--insufferably pretentious to some, and oddly compelling to others.Even for Bright Eyes, though, the first track to their latest album--"The People's Key," in which a questionably prophetic man babbles about Sumerian myths, reptilian men and parallel universes--is a tad bizarre."He's kind of this hippy, burnout guy with all these crazy conspiracy theories," explained longtime Bright Eyes multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis."People write him off as a nut, but I think [Oberst] saw some real intelligence in him. The whole idea was that it would erase all the preconceptions you might have had about this record when you put it on."With or without the pseudo-prophetic babble, though, the slick guitar pop on "The People's Key" signals a dramatic departure from Oberst's recent musical fixations--whether it be the lush Americana arrangements of Bright Eyes' 2007 album, "Cassadega," or the Southern-fried classic rock of his recordings with the Mystic Valley Band.The band's new foray into the world of pop music owes a lot to Mogis, who dusted off the same closet's worth of synthesizers he used on 2005's "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" to flesh out Oberst's current crop of meditations on loss and love.Gone are the pedal steels and the harmonicas on "The People's Key," replaced by new-wave synth-sounds and the kind of sunny, polished electronic pop at which "Digital Ash" only hinted the group was capable."We didn't really go into the studio with a notion of what we wanted to do--it was more that we had a notion of what we didn't want to do," Mogis said."It seemed a little deflating to come back to Bright Eyes and do the same stuff we'd done before. We wanted to make it more interesting."With a number of recent high-profile producing credits under his belt--including work with The Strokes' Julian Casablancas and indie heavyhitters like Jim James and M. Ward--Mogis brought a newfound confidence in knob-twiddling with him to "The People's Key."It's a record Mogis calls the band's most collaborative effort to date."I've taken a little something from every project I've worked on," Mogis said. "Working with [M. Ward] taught me how to strip something down, how to censor myself."I think that's made our songs a lot more focused and driven."Older fans of Bright Eyes' sprawling, indulgent folk anthems need not worry about the current live show being stripped back, however. In fact, Mogis claims that the current touring band--which will include several members of the original "Fevers and Mirrors" lineup--will have 50 songs rehearsed each night, covering every record in their back catalog."I've never been on a tour with any band where they've had that many songs prepared," Mogis said. "We're going to be digging pretty far back."Yet he's quick to emphasize that the breadth of the current tour doesn't necessarily indicate that this might be Bright Eyes' last--a possibility Oberst has hinted at in recent interviews."Recording this album after taking such a long hiatus, almost felt like we were making the first one again," Mogis said. "Bright Eyes is so distant now, it almost feels nonexistent."It feels like we're starting over."