Reviews

One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels

Author: Ian Cohen
03/24/2010 | Pitchfork.com | www.pitchfork.com | Album Review
In a particularly direct part of one of Conor Oberst's most direct songs, the second verse of "Nothing Gets Crossed Out" imagines an escape from the pressures of recording as Bright Eyes: He describes calling his Omaha buddies, having a few (too many) drinks, and just seeing what they could lay on tape, even if it's just for them. So it's understandable that when he finally resurrects the Bright Eyes brand, he forgoes his beloved singer-songwriter releases to instead supersize One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels, a 2004 songwriting collaboration with Neva Dinova that found members of Cursive and Tilly and the Wall filling out the ranks.

Surprisingly, Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows gets the better of Oberst on the new material. Perhaps it's a matter of relativity-- Neva's 2008 LP You May Already Be Dreaming was dreary, lacking anything near the Cure-like flanged bass and escalating melodies of One Jug's surprisingly celebratory leadoff track ("Rollerskating"). "Someone's Love" hews more toward Neva Dinova's typical barstool lamentations of busted romance, but it's far more ballsy than any of Dreaming's longfaced weepers.

The results are decidedly more mixed on Oberst's contributions. Bright Eyes were never convincing as a rock band, and the transparency in which Desaparecidos tried to be a rock band always made it feel hollow. True to form, the distorted guitars prop up the chorus of "Happy Accident", but it can't help but come off as forced. Fortunately, Oberst is inspired to dip into the inkwell with his early-decade poison pen, dashing off brutal accusations at what could possibly be an abandoned young mother. But after that fit of inspired bile comes "I Know You", where Oberst gets all Colin Meloy with his diction and pronunciation ("brah-mbles") within a stultifying, heavy-handed rhyme scheme that could pass for a next-level po-mo exercise of Oberst parodying himself parodying Dylan.

Don't confuse One Jug's surprising revival as a sign of it being an acknowledged lost classic: Its six tracks are the Saddle Creek collective trying to reconcile emo's mainlined communication with the realest of all musics (non-Nashville country, naturally). All of it holds up fine-- the found sounds never feel tacked-on, and it's a good freeze-frame of a time when Mike Mogis' production really turned a corner. Oberst, too, displays growth here: With its cynical view on companionship and blatant references to cocaine abuse, "I'll Be Your Friend" hints at the lyrical direction of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.

But while the brief resurrection of the Bright Eyes name and the reissue of a relatively obscure recording may seem like the Saddle Creek people throwing us a bone, for the most part, the pleasure in making the record is what feels like its enduring quality-- as songwriters, Oberst and Bellows sound more comfortable than challenged here. As a tribute to once prolific and unique songwriting community, One Jug is better served as a reminder of how much outstanding and original music Saddle Creek produced from 2000-2003 rather than a document of it.

5.8