Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Vinyl Box Set

Author: Tom Donnelly
09/29/2003 | | | Album Review
Conor Oberst and the various and sundry crew of players comprising Bright Eyes have been gathering steam for a few years now. From the beginning, when Oberst fans were largely family and friends, to the present days of Bright Eyes' international fan base, he's put out a stunningly large body of work, culminating in 2002's completely brilliant Lifted: or, The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground . The Vinyl Box Set gathers every Bright Eyes' release (along with a few previously import only tracks) on its home label of Saddle Creek Records from 1997-2001. To listen to it beginning to end is to be an auditory witness to the evolution of the best young songwriter to come along in years. Here's a quick breakdown of the box, record by record.

A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 Previously unavailable on vinyl, this two record set is the low-light, as it were, of the set. It was recorded in Oberst's basement on a 4-track machine and is rife with miserable tunes with titles like "The Awful Sweetness of Escaping Sweat" and "Falling Out of Love at This Volume." There's a heavy Cure/Flaming Lips influence obvious here, and some glimpses of the excellence to come, especially on "February 15th" and "Solid Jackson."

Best Songs: "Saturday As Usual," "One Straw (Please)," "Solid Jackson," & "February 15th."

Letting Off the Happiness
Oberst's second album as Bright Eyes is leaps and bounds ahead of the first release. He's finding his voice on this one and it was worth the search. "If Winter Ends," and "The City Has Sex" are the first forays into melodic, nearly euphoric depression. The bonus song "Empty Canyon, Empty Canteen" begs the usual question asked of import only tracks: why the hell was it only available in Japan?

Best Songs: "If Winter Ends," "Padraic my Prince," "Pull my Hair," & "June on the West Coast."

Every Day and Every Night
This five song EP is essentially a study in gloom. The opener, the pretentiously titled "A Line Allows Progress, a Circle Does not," is the most rocking song about life draining sadness ever. "A Perfect Sonnet" sees Oberst listing all the horrible fates he'd like to bestow upon happy lovers, until the end and his lovely acquiescence; "I believe that lovers should be draped in flowers/ And laid entwined on a bed of clover / And left there to sleep, left there to dream of their happiness." He was twenty years old.

Best Songs: "A Line Allows Progress, a Circle Does not," "A Perfect Sonnet," & "A New Arrangement."

Fevers and Mirrors
Oberst's first complete success, Fevers ... deals with love, loss, ennui, death, and a host of other issues. It's cohesive, coherent, and particularly evocative. The saga of mystery woman Arienette is added to with the inclusion of the previously unavailable in the U.S. "Jetsabel Removes the Undesirables." During the first song, "A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever, and a Necklace," Oberst is audibly in tears. By the end of the record, he won't be the only one. This is the landmark record of Bright Eyes' early years.

Best Songs: "The Calendar Hung Itself," "Something Vague," "The Movement of a Hand," "Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh," & "The Center of the World."

Don't Be Frightened of Turning the Page
Originally released in Europe, this contains the four Bright Eyes songs from Oh Holy Fools , the Bright Eyes/ Son Ambulance split. There are two additional tracks not on the split release. One of these, "I Won't Ever be Happy Again," is an anthem for the perennially sad. Oberst scorns the possibility of future serenity; "...all the dance halls will be full of skeletons that are coming back to life/ And on a grassy hill/ The lion will/ Lay down, with the lamb/ And I won't ever be lonely again." "No Lies, Just Love" is sung to his brother's unborn child with the promise, "I will be pure like snow, like gold." It's a song resonating with hope and unconditional love.

Best Songs: "Going for the Gold," "No Lies, Just Love," "Kathy With a K's Song," & "I Won't Ever be Happy Again."


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