Where to start with…Bright Eyes

Recently, I’ve come to realize that there are many bands that I would like to get into but feel as if I cannot. The main reason for my general avoidance of some groups stems from being overwhelmed by their expansive discographies. There is just too much and I never know where to begin. Do I start at the logical place: the beginning? Or do I go straight to their most recent release? Is there an album somewhere in the middle that best represents their talent? It can just be so confusing! 

For example, I’ve always been interested in listening to Peter Bjorn and John and Pavement but was quite intimidated by the amount of albums they have released. With a little bit of guidance, though, such bands may be conquerable.

And that is where our new feature comes in. Called “Where to Start With…,” it will focus on bands with huge discographies – whether it be because of numerous years of existence or just an overly-ambitious nature (::cough cough Ryan Adams::). We will break down their best releases and explain which ones make the most sense to “start with.” So get ready to take a deep breath and get ready to learn from “the experts,” (at least we think we are).

First up….Bright Eyes (aka. Conor Oberst)

When Conor Oberst started recording under the pseudonym “Bright Eyes” in 1995, his voice and guitars were far too raw for most listeners to enjoy. However in his early stuff you could still see a glimmer in his unsurpassed talent, especially if all that emotion was harnessed. The song writing skills were there. The guitar skills were there. As time went on he cultivated his ideas and skills and has become one of the best songsmiths of this generation.
To embark on an appreciation of Bright Eyes, I suggest not starting with his first release. Instead, begin your Bright Eyes journey with  “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” This 2005 release is the most accessible of the Bright Eyes albums. It is a folk masterpiece with widespread appeal.  In the opening track, “At the Bottom of Everything,” Oberst tells a story about passengers on a plane that is plummeting into the ocean and then counts into a tune about American materialism and society (with guest vocals by Jim Jones of My Morning Jacket).  Three tracks feature Emmylou Harris’s delightful voice: “We are Nowhere and It’s Now,” “Another Traveling Song” and “Poison Oak.”)  “First Day of My Life” is an acoustic gem with a simple, heart felt video (note: it actually made a single tear trickle down my cheek). “Lua,” a song about an evening full of drunken flailing, is another track that highlights how quiet yet poignant Bright Eyes can be.
  • We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” mp3
Second go to “Cassadaga.” It is a fine example of Oberst’s shift towards a more twangy style of rock.  The single “Four Winds” feels like an old time country song with an intensely political stance on the current condition of world and the differences people claim (“The Bible’s blind/ The Torah’s deaf./ The Qu’ran is mute./ If you burned them all together/ you’d get close to the truth”).  Songs 6, 7, 8 and 9 (“Soul Singer in a Session Band,” “Classic Cars,” “Middleman,” and “Cleanse Song”) are truly the standout tracks. They highlight Oberst’s songwriting, singing and guitar skills in an entirely different way than on previous albums. It is more of a big band style, with harmonic vocals and strong backup guitars. 
  • “Soul Singer in a Session Band” mp3
If you are still curious about what pre-refined Bright Eyes sounds like then try “Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.”  Okay, this is the first Bright Eyes album I ever heard.  At first, I did not enjoy it because it was just too raw for my underdeveloped ears.  But lyrically, this is an excellent album. Each track tells a different story but contains themes of not quite being good enough. “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” is classic Bright Eyes as it features a story about being in a drunken blur, struggling to find some person-to-person comfort for an evening. “Bowl of Oranges” is charming and hopeful.  “Waste of Paint” is more of a pessimistic view on the world.  The last track, “Lets Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)” is a 10 minute masterpiece featuring a variety of themes that characterize the human experience: ambition, disappointment, mistakes .  Most notably, it contains hint of Oberst’s shift towards political activism (“Well, ABC, NBC, CBS: Bullshit./ They give us fact of fiction?/ I guess its even split…As we take eye for an eye until no one can see,/ we must stumble blindly forward repeating history.”). 
  • “Waste of Paint” mp3
Also, if you find yourself drawn to the raw end of the spectrum (like “Poison Oak” or “From A Balance Beam”) you might want to check out “Fevers and Mirrors,” especially “The Calender Hung Itself,” “When the Curious Girl Realizes She is Under Glass,” and “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh.”  It has some great songs but, in retrospect, not entirely important to understanding the music that Oberst is currently releasing because it sounds nothing like this.   
  • “The Calender Hung Itself…” mp3

As a bonus if you enjoy music with a bit of electronica, be sure to check out 2005’s “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.” It features a totally different sound and feel as other Bright Eyes records but it has some incredibly poignant songs about alcoholism (“Hit the Switch”) and sex/love (“Take it Easy – Love Nothing”). Also “Gold Mind Gutted” and “Easy Lucky Free” are both stand out songs even though this album is an overall grower.  
  • “Easy Lucky Free”  mp3
Note: Oberst has dropped the “Bright Eyes” name recently and started releasing music and touring with the Mystic Valley Band.  Check out the self-titled “Conor Oberst,” especially the songs “Get Well Cards,” “Cape Canaveral” and “Danny Callahan.” This album is further example of what happens over time with Oberst; the songwriting is still as strong as it always has been but the vocals and guitars are even more developed than they were in the past.  He is set to release another album with the Mystic Valley Band, called “Outer South,” sometime this year.  On his website, you can stream one of the songs from that album, “Slowly (Oh So Slowly).”

Thursday Top 5: Booze-Filled Tunes for V-Day

So, with Valentines’ Day coming up this weekend, I wanted to do a list of songs related to this day that, I believe, was created by greeting card and florist companies to make loads and loads (and loads) of money on one day. But instead, I decided to do a list of songs, in no particular order, that are drenched in booze, feelings and all that good stuff. Enjoy!

1. The Good Life, I Am Island mp3


“Because the night’s tragic rambling/ is the next day’s apology. / So if you can just sit tight until the sun hits the blinds / we can settle everything.”


No one knows how to describe the sullen mood of boozing quite like Tim Kasher and The Good Life.His howling voice accurately conveys the feeling associated with those booze-fueled evenings that end with regret of what was said.The drunkard in this song is unsure of everything. He hopes to soothe the uncertainty with a drink or two but finds it just makes things worse.In just under 2 minutes and thirty seconds, the mood goes from trying to work things out to realizing that he is just a “selfish” and a “dysfunctional fuck up” who quits, baby.

2. The Hold Steady, You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came To the Dance With) (live) mp3


“I was out of my head so it was out of my hands/ White wine and some tall boy cans./ They powered up and they proceeded to jam man.”


The Hold Steady have so many songs about drinking.But this is by far my favorite one.To me, it is almost educational.Let me explain that:In the Live at the Fingerprints 2006 performance, Craig Finn bantered about how this song title isn’t about dancing, per-say. It is a simply piece of advice that you have to stick to one type of alcohol per night otherwise you will regret it in the morning.Everyone has made that mistake and, without fail, has woken up with a nasty headache, stomachache, and sometimes, heartache.Listen to The Hold Steady on this one; they know what they are talking (singing) about.

3. Bright Eyes, Well Whiskey mp3


“Now I let my troubles solve themselves./ I used to get involved, but I’m just no help./ But tonight let’s pretend that we’re just like we were./ Let me stay until the morning, I will sleep on the floor.”


Omaha, Nebraska-native Bright Eyes has a history of writing great songs about alcohol (“Hit the Switch,” “Lua,” etc).This one has a special charm to it. Whiskey is a drink associated with, often, the most unattended of folks.The smell that flows from the glass can be alienating at best. And the taste is as overwhelming as the odor.

The whole song is basically a testimonial to what happens when whiskey is the drink choice. Whether it be from the every-day well or the special occasion “top shelf,” the mood is one where postulating about the past and future is the norm.Control is exalted to the glass and nostalgia takes over. Whatever the outcome of the night is, a swift washing of clothing will be performed in order to get the stink of the night off the rags.Whiskey never fails to leave a stench on all it touches.

4. Deer Tick, Art isn’t Real (City of Sin) mp3


“I am just going through the motions./ I need an old fashioned potion./ There has gotta be some old recipe / ‘cuz I gotta get drunk/ I gotta forget about some things.”


Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, this band released their first studio album “War Elephant” in 2007.Their folksy sound is paired with the raspy voice of lead-singer John McCauley. In this song, which is the second song on the album, he describes an obsession with thinking. He is hopeful for things to get better, but for the time being, he feels that they might not.He is regretful for wasteful actions. He dwells on bad memories. He wants to go back the simpler times but cannot.It is a familiar feeling that, to be sure, has been experienced by most 20-somethings trying to find their place in the world after four years of blissful college life.

5. Regina Spektor, Bartender mp3


“I’ve been too candid./ Now I’m barely standing./ Just call me a taxi and prepare for landing.”


Now it should be stated that the extent to which I like female vocalists is pretty limited at best.But I love Regina Spektor.There is something so raw about her persona that I feel the emotional severity in each note she sings.And with this song, I can relate to every single word she utters as she slams on the piano. Even the smallest details of this song, like the way she repeats ‘bartender’ over and over again emphasizing each syllable, is a perfect portray of the way one feels after clasping to the bar stool all night.Things get fuzzy after a point and last call is coming. It’s time to put down the glass and get on home. Things will never feel quite the same until next time of course.