Plumbiferous Media

The People’s Key - Bright Eyes

Feb 27th 2011
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The People's Key - Bright EyesBright Eyes
The People's Key
Score: 82








Bright Eyes, like­ly Conor Oberst’s most cel­e­brat­ed project, released its newest, and pos­si­bly last album ear­li­er this month. The album, named The People’s Key, is a sol­id album in con­struc­tion, to say the least. There are things to like about The People’s Key as well as ele­ments that are less like­ly to please, but the for­mer cat­e­go­ry strong­ly out­weighs the lat­ter in every respect.

The first notable point of The People’s Key is the non-tran­si­tion between the spo­ken open­ing words of the album and the rest of “Fire­wall.” The awk­ward few sec­onds that com­plete­ly fail to link the tone or even rhythm of the two sec­tions are thank­ful­ly fol­lowed by a much more promis­ing sec­ond half of a track. The plod­ding gui­tar is con­trast­ed ini­tial­ly by the first burst of per­cus­sion, and the grad­ual blend­ing of the two ele­ments pro­vides a key and high­ly inter­est­ing point of inter­est through the remain­ing min­utes.

From this shaky start and respectable recov­ery, The People’s Key pro­ceeds with a well con­trast­ing and gen­er­al­ly enter­tain­ing set of tracks. The gen­er­al live­li­ness of the album makes easy work of keep­ing the album afloat, and the wealth of unique tracks is well received. There are a few that fade into the back­ground, but that is always prefer­able to a set of ini­tial­ly inter­est­ing yet utter­ly monot­o­nous tracks. All in all, Bright Eyes makes short work of The People’s Key. It’s not the most incred­i­bly excit­ing album ever, but it real­ly is quite good.

Oberst’s vocals on The People’s Key haven’t changed much from what they’ve been on the rest of Bright Eyes’ work - still plain­tive, still pos­sessed of the depth that has dis­tin­guished much of Oberst’s work (with the notable excep­tion of his work with the Mys­tic Val­ley Band). The People’s Key’s instru­men­tals work to com­ple­ment Oberst’s voice, fur­ther empha­siz­ing the depth of both the music and of Oberst’s voice. It’s per­haps even more help­ful that the mix­ing of Oberst’s voice, even when it’s pushed into the back, pre­vents it from ever seem­ing flat, instead cre­at­ing new lev­els that fur­ther help to devel­op the music.

Though Oberst tends towards a sin­gle vocal style, it’s one that’s well-out­fit­ted with the sort of embell­ish­ment that keeps such a style inter­est­ing, from the effects used lib­er­al­ly on his voice (see “Approx­i­mate Sun­light”), to the care­ful pro­nun­ci­a­tion of each line. It cer­tain­ly doesn’t hurt that, on top of that, The People’s Key is writ­ten quite well, giv­ing Oberst some­thing inter­est­ing to sing about, whether it’s the sur­re­al dream image of “swim­ming with you in that cenote the Heav­ens made with black fire” or the word-heavy metaphors of “Fire­wall,” where Oberst “make[s] toasts to the Cae­sars / Forc­ing down the dregs of Decem­ber.” Along with Oberst’s words comes, as is usu­al for Bright Eyes, spo­ken word rav­ings about rep­til­ians and pome­gran­ates. It’s an odd way to begin and end an album, and one that cer­tain­ly takes some get­ting used to - but it’s nonethe­less an enter­tain­ing choice.

On the whole, while The People’s Key isn’t a per­fect album, it’s cer­tain­ly one of Bright Eyes’ best. Com­bin­ing Oberst’s skilled vocals with intrigu­ing­ly sur­re­al lyrics and inter­est­ing instru­men­tals, The People’s Key, occa­sion­al mis­steps aside, comes off quite well. If The People’s Key is indeed Bright Eyes’ last album, as Oberst sug­gest­ed in 2009 when he first announced the record, it’ll be a wor­thy send-off for a band that’s been around since the mid-90s.


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One Response

  1. A. Matheson says:

    I dug it. Agreed that the spo­ken-word sam­ples fail to coa­lesce with the music all too often, but then again, I sup­pose post-Cas­sada­ga, the ram­bling-sam­pled-mys­tic-vox come with the ter­ri­to­ry.

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