Omaha native Conor Oberst is Bright Eyes. This EMO wunder-kind has been recording since he was 13. He is now 24 years old and has recently released two new albums. One is a minor electronica pop experiment called Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. But the other is a rough edged and sensitive folk masterwork called I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It recalls the brilliant heartfelt music of Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. How appropriate then that country folk legend – and Dylan and Parsons’ renowned back-up vocalist – Emmylou Harris appears on this Bright Eyes release. She gives the album her angelic presence. Her voice guides and supports Oberst’s delicate cracking vibrato. She soothes his pain.
“We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” is quite something to behold. The romantic connection of the mandolin, trumpet and spectral guitars is a joy. Add to that Oberst and Harris’s gorgeous harmonies as they sing, “And like a 10-minute dream in the passenger seat/ While the world was flying by/ I haven’t been gone very long/ But it feels like a lifetime.”
It’s just Oberst and his guitar on “Lua,” a morose yet romantic song about love, drunkenness (or is it drugginess?) and the morning after. He just throws off his brilliant lines with ultra-cool phrasing. “We might die from medication/ But we sure killed all the pain/ But what was normal in the evening/ By the morning seems insane.”
Guitars charge right through “Another Travelin’ Song,” a jubilant forceful tune with lots of drums, a pedal steel and organ joining the proceedings. It wouldn’t be out of place on Dylan’s Desire. Oberst is confused and forlorn as he states, “All my thoughts they come in pairs/ I will/ I won’t/ I doubt/ I don’t.”
The album has a hypnotic quality with its rough edged yet graceful production. The keen observations and fragile boyish smarts don’t come across as all knowing and all seeing. The songs have no answers, they just glide by with their relatable insecurities and romanticism. They have a dizzy, fearless heart and linger in your brain for days. On the last track “Road To Joy” you wonder where Oberst is headed when he ends his tale with, “I could have been a famous singer/ If I had someone else’s voice/ But failure’s always sounded better/ Let’s fuck it up boys/ Make some noise.”
The Fiery Furnaces’ new EP is a 10-song disc full of tasty, previously unreleased material (including new takes on some of their old tunes). It’s unbelievably accomplished, clever pop. More like the straightforward songs from their 2003 release Gallowsbird’s Bark and not as chaotic and experimental as the tunes from 2004’s Blueberry Boat. EP is siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedbergers’ first release of a promised three this year (one will include vocals by grandma Friedberger).
The album starts with “Single Again,” a dark sad story of a woman examining the never-ending abusive treatment from her two husbands. As the bleeps and farts of the Casio amuse the ears and guitars kick and punch behind her, Eleanor nonchalantly sings, “He beat me/ He banged me/ He swore he would hang me/ And I wish I was single again.” On the sublime “Tropical Ice-Land” Eleanor sings a lot of nonsense as guitars jingle jangle and the drum stomps along. But she sings the lyrics like a giddy brat that just loves the sounds that the words make together. It’s like Kay Thompson’s Eloise set to music. “Paper mâché parade on at night/ That’s what you do with no sunlight,” she chirps.
Multi-instrumentalist Matthew’s stories come across as a Kurt Weil-drunk and The Who-obsessed hybrid. “Cousin Chris” is wordy and jaunty and full of neat little sounds that creep out from the dark and join the pair in a duet of silly witty word play that totally captivates (or annoys you to bits). “Fireman Frank friendly fed fee-free/ Dank dusty doughnuts den da dribble drank.” Hey, don’t you roll your eyes. I know, I know. But trust me, it’s really good. I swear.