Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: T.J. Simon
04/01/2003 | | | Album Review
Connor Oberst is a Nebraskan in his early twenties who, under the monikers of Commander Venus, Desaparecidos, and Bright Eyes, has been performing and recording alternative rock music since he was 14 years of age. A bit unconventional, his voice recalls the sound of Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes), Larry Kirwan (Black 47), or Robert Smith (The Cure). On Oberst's latest Bright Eyes release Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, he has gathered together for accompaniment on the disc a virtual symphony of percussion, cellos, oboes, horns, guitars, and keyboards, as well as a choir of voices playing the role of a postmodern Greek chorus.

Most indie artists place their best song on the first track of a CD in an effort to combat short attention spans and crowded record store listening stations. For some inexplicable reason, Oberst chose to begin Lifted with one of the worst songs ever committed to recorded media. The Big Picture is not only a horrible song, it's also an assault on the ears, lasting nearly eight unbearable minutes. One can only assume that Oberst wanted to scare off as many potential fans as possible before he unleashed a dozen of the most intimate, confessional pop songs recorded in recent years.

Ignoring the first cut (please do), Oberst proves himself to be a lyrical poet in the wordy tradition of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. On many songs, he forgoes the chorus as if the repetition of lyrics would get in the way of his story. On Lover I Don't Have to Love, Oberst recounts an erotic encounter with a fan backed by an irresistible keyboard loop and an ambitious string section. It is the most accessible and radio-friendly song on a disc that, as a whole, will take a modest time investment for the listener to embrace. On Bowl of Oranges, Oberst wakes up on a day where the commonplace seems new and beautiful providing him with a fresh perspective. Don't Know when but a Day Is Gonna Come tells of finding solace in the simple things of life playing a song, passing a hat, leaving town, and appreciating the love of friends. His Bright Eyes' orchestra is whip-crackingly tight and provides a perfect accompaniment to Oberst's intelligent phrase-turning.

In addition to crafting deep and meaningful lyrics, Oberst traverses musical genres on Lifted without forsaking the feel of a cohesive album. On the nihilistic Nothing Gets Crossed Out, Bright Eyes invokes the feel of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Conversely, on Waste of Paint, Oberst strips down his accompaniment to a solo acoustic guitar suitable for a coffeehouse atmosphere. The disc's standout track is the alt-country Make War, the best good-riddance-to-an-ex-girlfriend ditty since Ben Folds' Song for the Dumped. Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved) tells the story of Oberst's post-suidical redemption by the love of his father. Trumpets, harmonica, and a driving drumbeat help propel the listener forward in the story as the young Oberst moves forward in his own personal journey to maturity.

If the first track could be removed from the disc like a tumor, Lifted would be damn near a perfect album. And if ever there was a CD to buy rather than burn or copy, this one is it. The packaging is beautiful with illustrations and lyric sheets formatted like a book each song making up a paragraphed chapter. This is particularly appropriate as Bright Eyes' songs are all extended prose poems, and reading the lyrics along with them is a rewarding experience. Overall, Lifted is a remarkable piece of recorded art from a young visionary with a bright future ahead of him.