Review Summary: I've seen, I've see, I've seen stranger things, man.
Conor Oberst, frontman for indie trio Bright Eyes, has exhibited his share of eccentricities. He has cited Daniel Johnston, a song writer who released much of his material from the confines of a mental hospital, as a major influence. So he is obviously no stranger to questions of sanity or mental inconsistencies. Despite this, Oberst’s lyrics remained coherent and his subject matter intimately relatable. On Bright Eyes newest album The People’s Key, however, Conor Oberst seems to have finally followed his idol and gone quite completely off the deep end, while, simultaneously, creating his most coherent and mature album to date.
As with previous albums, The People’s Key, opens with a monologue, setting the stage for themes explored throughout the album. Danny Brewer, a friend of Oberst’s, begins the song Firewall with an outlandish account of the beginning of the world, comprised of lizard men and transdemensionality. Sections of Brewer’s bizarre religious views bookend several songs throughout the album, affecting uncomfortable laughs and raised eyebrows in the critical listener. The theme of religiosity is present in many of the songs as Oberst struggles with both the desire for a concrete religious belief and a strong aversion to the burden it would place upon him. Other themes include a critique of postmodernity, the fate of children born to immoral parents, and the realities present only in our strangest dreams. The lyrics, as always, are simply sublime. Oberst weaves mythological metaphors and references to obscure historical events together to create an intricate and engrossing tapestry that begs listeners to stop and contemplate their meanings and implications.
Musically, The People’s Key, falls closest to the band’s 2005 electronica album, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, though the new album is much more experimental than anything the band has released. The instrumentation is complex and varied, ranging from distorted guitars and 80s synths, to more familiar implements such as acoustic guitar and piano. The opening song, “Firewall,” begins with dissonant guitar and an oppressive drum beat, only to break into a funky rhodes organ for the finale. It sounds like an identity crisis, but it feels complete and unique, a testament to the talent and musical integrity of the band.
Though Fans of the acoustic sound heard in both I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning and Cassadaga may be disappointed by the percussive nature of The People’s Key, it is by no means a disappointment. In reality, Bright Eyes newest album is an absolute masterpiece. If the rumors are true, and this is, in fact, their last album, it is a magnificent swan song, worthy the same critical acclamation their previous albums received.