Bright Eyes
Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was


3.9
excellent

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
August 23rd, 2020 | 226 replies


Release Date: 08/21/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I felt lost and found with every step I took.

On the best song from Better Oblivion Community Center, Conor Oberst seemed close to some kind of hard-earned peace about the loss of his brother, Matthew Oberst, who died in 2016. "Just go, out into the fallen snow", he sang with Phoebe Bridgers providing ghostly harmony. "Just go until you feel different". But if the last few months have shown me anything, it's that you don't really ever find the end of grief. At most you stumble into the eye of the storm and gain a little perspective on it, as Conor seemed to on "Service Road", as he does again every now and then on Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, an album dedicated 'for Matty'.

On the first song from Down in the Weeds... the MC promises us a guided tour of our "most vivid nightmares" via one "Pageturners Rag". It's both a bizarre opener and a very straightforward one, clearly intended to welcome us into an album of modern fever dreams: doomscrolling, as brought to you by the man who could never help reading the body count out of the paper. Oberst's first real statement in his own voice is a vow to "dance on through and sing" because it's all he can do, a mission statement for why a natural cynic and depressive would even commit to making music in 2020.

But it's not just our current hell that's weighing on Conor Oberst's mind. He later characterises life overall as "the Tilt-A-Whirl of our despair", a strong contender for the Most Bright Eyes lyric to ever exist. It's hard to blame anyone for the gloomy outlook now - especially Oberst, coming to terms with the loss of a brother and a marriage which came to an end, even amicably. This is an album born out of grief, to be sure, but not an album that wallows inside grief. This isn't the band who used to scream and thrash their guitars and drumkits like possessed demons. Oberst keeps his voice low and reserved, singing about his deceased brother, his ex-wife and his aging mother in quiet sentences. He lets Nate Walcott's stately strings and Jon Theodore's sinuous drums do the vocalising for him. The band have never sounded more one entity, looking out at the world through Conor Oberst's uniquely skewed visions, and recording whatever they see.

If the immensely underrated Cassadaga was a roadtrip across America scored by psychedelic preachers and country singers in smoky bars, Down in the Weeds... is a twisted companion piece, one where the travelers rush home in fear that it's the last chance they'll ever get. We're undoubtedly moving through a story, one soundtracked by eerie faint choirs and snippets of distorted voices and honest-to-god bagpipes breakdowns over slap bass runs from Flea. But the journey this time is through a dreamscape, whether that be Conor Oberst's or the entire world's, our most vivid nightmares as we struggle to fall asleep. Bright Eyes' world in 2020 is one of ghost towns where cash is wired behind bulletproof glass, of children playing silently in the shadows of buildings, of wiretaps and money trails going outside comprehension. "This world went down in flames and manmade caves", they warn apocalyptically – and what they find down in the weeds isn't necessarily worth saving.

Except that music has always been my saviour and I think Bright Eyes feel the same. They're spinning a lonely, sad narrative on Down in the Weeds..., but in telling the story they share it with all of us, which naturally transforms it. Whether grieving an Elliott Smith-esque figure in "Stairwell Song", his brother or the world, Oberst doesn't grieve alone, and there's a beauty in that as warped as the soundscapes Mike Mogis casts around his words. Even the absolutely jaw-dropping "To Death's Heart (in Three Parts)", potentially one of the best songs to come from Conor Oberst's pen, finds strange and startling redemption in the abrupt end of life. Referencing his own depression and debilitating illness around the time of Ruminations, and drawing a line from there to the Bataclan deaths in 2015 and Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", Oberst finds comfort in the notion that "all that's constant is change". And if music's consummate purveyor of heartbreak and loneliness can find solace in togetherness, that means we all can, like the protagonist of Cassadaga finding himself even as he loses all meaning.



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user ratings (135)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Pheromone
August 23rd 2020


8663 Comments


nice one row - i really dont fuck w bright eyes usually but you've got me interested with this one

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Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2020


44204 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

thanks phero you might like it or, on the other hand, you may in fact not like it. I don't think I did it any justice here really but :shrugging_guy:

Digging: Black Thought - Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2020


29356 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Row ! !



This is nice and you make this sound like a huge downer and I like that and will endeavour to hear it

Digging: Tricot - 10

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
August 23rd 2020


751 Comments


great review. i haven’t been a big fan of Oberst historically but this album sounds intriguing.

Digging: Blue Divers - Blue Divers

Conmaniac
August 23rd 2020


25827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oooooooh I'm too hype honestly.

Slex
August 23rd 2020


10406 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I mean, it's fine



Really great review tho

Digging: Gulfer - Gulfer

Cormano
August 23rd 2020


2287 Comments


sweet

gotsthedewsdood
August 23rd 2020


743 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First impression was underwhelming, but it's already grown considerably on the second and third listens.

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 23rd 2020


36096 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

great review



oberst is like the king of the 3.5 for me and I doubt this will be much different, but I'm willing to try because his stuff is almost always interesting



side note, that artwork rules

Digging: Sam Amidon - Sam Amidon

BlitzPhoenix98
August 23rd 2020


63 Comments


I've never listened to this band aside from the song Lua, how worth are they checking out?

brvb
August 23rd 2020


2 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The first half of the album was a little underwhelming to me, except for "One and Done". But after the lowest point on the tracklist ("Pan and Broom" which sounds so awkward and poorly executed) everything picks up so beautifully. Those three last tracks, oof, talk about a gutpunch.

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 23rd 2020


36096 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Worth it just for the status/influence in the scene alone I'd reckon.

Muppelope
August 23rd 2020


1950 Comments


Lifted and the stuff he did with Desaparecidos has always been my favorite. Didn't dig this too much on a cursory listen, but I'll give it another full listen sometime soon.

reverendgreen95
August 23rd 2020


28 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Great review, also hard agree on Cassadaga being criminally underrated. This album feels a bit back heavy but the whole thing keeps growing on me, it's got some of his finest moments to date imo.

JustJoe.
August 23rd 2020


9725 Comments


wonderful write-up rowbro

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 23rd 2020


36096 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

His best

This tops I'm Wide Awake

Slex
August 23rd 2020


10406 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Woah

SowingSeason
Moderator
August 23rd 2020


36096 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I was literally saying holy shit like every minute and a half

I need to hear it again before I'll decide if the 5 sticks a landing but this has such a sense of finality and accomplishes that desperation in such myriad ways that my jaw dropped

dustandnations
August 23rd 2020


347 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You liked cinematic endings....

Feather
August 23rd 2020


6166 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is possibly equal to Lifted for me which is my favorite. If lifted is the angsty youthful energy, this feels like the perfect ending to an incredible career. There is such a nice finality especially with the orchestral arrangements.



Pan and Broom is the weak link here [2]



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