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Some time ago I promised a proper review about the new Bright Eyes album

02/04/2011

Well some time ago I finally wrote it and then forgot to post it here so please enjoy this belated review of an ANCIENT OLD NEWS album that everyone’s already moved on from. Except me because it’s pretty much turned from “well this is rather nice” to “yeah this is a pretty heavy candidate for album of the year atm”, etc.

After the cut.

It is a time of unease for a Bright Eyes fan. Somewhere around 2009-2010 when Conor Oberst was still doing his sideproject frolicing, he mentioned that he was planning to get the old gang back together one more time and record one more Bright Eyes album to seal shut that side of his musical life, for reasons unknown. Maybe he just enjoyed his middling solo career that much. Now, in 2011, that next Bright Eyes album is finally here… and we have absolutely no idea what’s going on with the future of the band. Oberst and co certainly don’t seem to be doing any final preparations and they’ve become completely mute in the public eye. There’s been no mentions of The People’s Key being the final act and by all accords Oberst seems like he’s having a great time with the band again. There’s been no mentions either way whether this really is the final album or not. What’s one supposed to be feeling here? Hell, it’s even killing a perfectly good review hook because in case they do not quit any “final album” angle would be awkward and a bit daft to read in hindsight.

The thing is, if The People’s Key turns out to be the final chapter, I’m going to miss this band quite a lot. I know I’m not really the strongest kind of fan there is – whilst I like their discography as a whole my listening habits tend to revolve a particular set of albums and the others only get the occasional rare play, and while I’m a fan of Oberst’s lyrics I’ve not particularly dwelled into them outside a couple of the albums, largely because the sheer vast, novel-like scope of most of them tends to throw me off the carriage at one point or another. But there are a lot of things to the band that do nice things to my musical tastebuds. There’s vast amounts of charisma and talent to the group and I’ve lost the track of times I’ve got lost in their music. They even form one of the few big bridges between the vastly different tastes and listening habits between my partner and I, both agreeing on the greatness of Cassadaga.

The reason I’m prefacing this review with all this is that The People’s Key serves as a grand reminder of why I love this band. I had slight fears that this would be a bit of a limp ordeal after Oberst’s solo dabblings seemed to have sucked out the inspiration from him, but the band on The People’s Key sound more rejuvenated than they’ve ever been. In fact, this might just be the most life-filled Bright Eyes album. The music is packed with the joy of creation and oodles of energy, and it sounds like the whole band’s tuned to it – the band nature of Bright Eyes tends to get lost occasionally due to Oberst’s highly centric nature, and The People’s Key is arguably the only Bright Eyes album where the whole song run sounds like the work of a big creative unit made out of several people. Ignoring the risk that saying it makes me sound like a giant, hippiefied pillock, The People’s Key has a whole lot of great vibes coming out of its feel and sound. The manic rockout of “Jejune Stars” (starring the headbangingly awesome pseudo-blastbeat sections), the self-referential and unashamedly poppy “Shell Games”, the future-folk of “Machine Spiritual”, the final groove, dance and bow of “One for You, One for Me” and many others, all sharing the same connection of just being joyous about playing music and sharing it with a person who might just bond personally with it.

If it is the final album, it’s got a feel of celebration to it – leaving out with a smile and inviting the listener along to the one last party. If it isn’t, it’s simply the sound of a band returning from a hiatus with a bang. Either way, it sounds great.

Stylistically The People’s Key is arguably the most energetic and rocking Oberst and co have ever been for the duration of a whole album. It ditches the country wave Oberst has been riding for the past several years and switches it to rocking guitar riffs, but as a twist it mixes the electronic quirks of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn into the concoction of rock drive and buzzing synths to make it sound like a meeting point of two worlds. Oberst rambles about technology and religion and the nature of both in human life in a typically Oberstian way, which melts together excellently with the music, almost like a gospel album for some technological religion.

And it’s good. So good. It’s one of those classical types of albums which start off as something that doesn’t hit you instantly but which have a peculiar, addictive charm to them. The more you listen, the more it begins to reveal its secrets. By now I’ve become almost transfixed to it and even after I’ve moved on from it to other albums, it moves right back to active listening habits at the slightest chance.

And thus, if this turns out to be the last Bright Eyes album, it’s going to be a sad occasion. It’s seemingly unlikely that what Oberst would do without his backing crew would be as good as what he does with them (if his solo adventures are any sign), and the passion and energy of The People’s Key just proves what a great group they are. But something tells me the whole thing isn’t over: The People’s Key sounds too rejuvenated, too joyous even at its more melancholy moments to signal a stop. It sounds like a group of people coming back together after a break and re-realising just how great it is to make music together. A feeling of joy which radiates to the listener. They were never really away but the hiatus and uncertainty about the future makes them feel like a good friend who’s been gone for a while and might be going again soon for god knows how long. It’s great to spend some time with that friend again.

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