Why Conor Oberst's return to Bright Eyes is to be celebrated
Ryan Drever welcomes back a different and more left-field Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst has made a return to his most high profile project, Bright Eyes. With a new album and a Glasgow date at Oran Mor part of the plan, Ryan Drever welcomes him back.
Even if you’ve never warmed to the shaky timbre of Conor Oberst’s emotionally-wrought vocals, related to his often intensely personal lyrics or felt a kinship with the causes he so vehemently confronts and supports with his music, there is one thing you could never accuse the man of, and that’s laziness.
Since the age of around 13, Omaha, Nebraska native, Oberst, along with the help of a close-knit sleeper cell of incredibly talented artists and musicians centering around Saddle Creek Records, has been writing, recording, performing and releasing in numerous bands/ projects – from the original incarnation of electronic troupe, The Faint to the ramshackle punk of Desaparecidos – right up until the present day, where, as he tiptoes into his 30s, is already doing his best to embrace his past glories as well as make heady progress.
Most commonly known for his work under the name Bright Eyes, Oberst’s work has been celebrated for its cathartic, emotional, and often self-deprecating lyrical approach, combined with a respect and ingenuity in recreating and twisting elements of more traditional folk and country. Early albums like Letting Off The Happiness and Fevers and Mirrors revelled in their own misery, coupled with a rough and ready production style, and soon began to lay the foundations for some of his more cohesive yet experimental bouts of creativity, and subsequently, enormous popularity.
In stark contrast to the James Blunts and Jack Johnsons of the world, Bright Eyes – steadily incorporating hired hands and helpers along the way – consistently offered a varied palette, and ultimately more substance to what could have easily been written off as another singer-songwriter. After turning heads with the sprawling Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil Keep Your Ear To The Ground in 2002, the double-release of the acoustic/country-driven I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, and not-so-acoustic Digital Ash In A Digital Urn three years later was instrumental in the evolution of Bright Eyes from cult figure to MTV mainstay, spawning ‘hits’ and now well-worn fan favourites such as ‘First Day Of My Life’, ‘Goldmine Gutted’, and the sparsely beautiful, ‘Lua’.
In 2007, Oberst put the band on ice, using this as an opportunity to spread his creative wings and explore different paths to his most commonly recognised outlet, and, after turning his hand briefly at ‘solo’ work – somewhat confusingly lashing together ‘The Mystic Valley Band’ as support – was drafted in alongside M. Ward, My Morning Jacket’s angelic crooner Jim James, and frequent collaborator and Saddle Creek all-star, Mike Mogis to form a folk ‘supegroup’ of sorts, Monsters Of Folk, culminating in a well-received debut of the same name.
As well constructed as these efforts were, anyone that has spent the past three years tearfully staring at their copy of Lifted… wondering where the good times have gone would have been pleased to hear of Bright Eyes’ reemergence late last year. Promising a bolder albeit less-folk orientated approach, the announcement of a new album, The People’s Key is coupled with the bands first UK live appearances in four years, including a sold out, last-minute Scottish stint at Glasgow’s Oran Mor. On the strength of first single, ‘Shell Games’, alone, this latest offering, as different and perhaps left-field as it may be, is undoubtedly Bright Eyes at its most potent. Unmissable? We think so.
Bright Eyes, Oran Mor, Glasgow, Tue 8 Feb. The People’s Key’ is released on Saddle Creek Records, Mon 14 Feb.