Album Review: ‘The People’s Key’ by Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes, “The People’s Key”
Label: Saddle Creek Records
Release: Feb. 15

You might think Bright Eyes is this indie acoustic project.

You know, the one that’s really just Conor Oberst playing his folky tunes under a pseudonym?

It’s not. Not anymore, anyway.

The band has finally proved so with “The People’s Key,” the record where the group shows it has finally matured.

This record has melody, keyboards, guitars, beats and spoken word. It’s at some points plodding (“Approximate Sunlight”) and at other times dancy (“Jejune Stars”). And, of course, Oberst’s honest, “couldn’t have said it better” lyrics are all over the record.

Instead of focusing on one influence or style or idiosyncrasy, the band hits on all of them.

“Triple Spiral” recalls the best indie pop. “Firewall” is a contemplative but lifting tune. “Shell Games” rocks with a catchy chorus and rhythmic melody.

The only song that feels like old Bright Eyes is “Beginner’s Mind,” which sounds like the teenage Oberst who doesn’t remember the proper ratio of his pitchy voice to his acoustic guitar.

With “The People’s Key,” Bright Eyes feels like a band. Oberst’s usual acoustic croonings have been fleshed out into real live songs with full accompaniment by Nate Walcott’s playing and Mike Mogis’ production and guitar.

The one big thing lost on me is the “shamanic vocals” (as they’re credited) by Denny Brewer, a musician that Oberst met during his many musical adventures. Basically, the vocals are a rambling spoken word stream of consciousness from Brewer about Hitler and demons and aliens and the origins of human life and all sorts of — let’s be honest — craziness.

I suppose it’s Oberst saying, “This is my record and I can do whatever I want.”
It’s also part of the mysticism found in Oberst’s lyrics ever since we heard Bright Eyes’ last album, “Cassadaga,” named after a spiritualist camp. While certainly not in the reggae musical style, here the lyrics sometimes carry the theme, including mentions of “one love” and Rastafarian messiah Haile Selassie.

“It’s been said we’re post-everything,” Oberst sings on “Approximate Sunlight.”
I suppose so. Especially for Bright Eyes, which says here that it’s post-anything-and-everything by refusing to be defined by anything it has been called before.

© 2011 Omaha World-Herald

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Want more on Bright Eyes? Pick up a World-Herald or head to Omaha.com/go on Sunday to get the scoop on the album, the possibility of being a No. 1 album and the album’s artwork by Grammy-winner Zack Nipper.

Also, check out a special edition of my column on Sunday for my Grammy predictions.

Aaaaaand, I’ll be doing a live chat here and at Omaha.com/go on Sunday at 7 p.m. during the Grammy Awards.

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While I’m on the subject, there are a variety of good concerts with tickets on sale this weekend. Bright Eyes is just one of them.

Get that credit card out, here’s what’s coming.

• The Decemberists will performing with Justin Townes Earl on April 17 at the Holland Center, easily the best sounding place to see music in town. They don’t do a lot of rock concerts, but this will be one to catch. Tickets, $35, are on sale now.

• The Felice Brothers will play the Waiting Room on May 4. Tickets, $13, will go on sale Saturday at 1% Productions.

• Bright Eyes plays with Jenny & Johnny on June 4 at Westfair Amphitheater. Can’t wait for the sun to come out so we can hear some good tunes. Get tickets, $25, at 1% Productions starting Saturday.

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