Bright Eyes - The People's Key (Cover Artwork)

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes: The People's KeyThe People's Key (2011)
Saddle Creek Records

Reviewer Rating: 3.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: JeloneJelone
(others by this writer | submit your own)

If The People's Key really is the final Bright Eyes release as alleged, then it's a fitting finale. It deviates a bit from the traditional Bright Eyes formula--it's more electronic than acoustic--but combined with Desapericidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish and Bright Eyes' other black sheep record, Dig.
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If The People's Key really is the final Bright Eyes release as alleged, then it's a fitting finale. It deviates a bit from the traditional Bright Eyes formula--it's more electronic than acoustic--but combined with Desapericidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish and Bright Eyes' other black sheep record, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, it forms an unofficial electronic trilogy. Despite its sonic deviation, the lyrical content covers traditional Conor Oberst themes (clocks, the passing of time). Even criticizing the record for sounding too different from the majority of Bright Eyes releases seems irrelevant given the record's preoccupation with the path not taken.

But then, Bright Eyes never truly stuck to one given sound, morphing from lo-fi bedroom pop to country/bluegrass with detours in indie rock and electronica. It's odd, then, that Oberst would retire the Bright Eyes moniker, especially since we already went through this same thing with the Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band in 2008.

Whatever. If you've had a love/hate relationship with Oberst like I have over the last decade (and sometimes it really was easier to hate him), then The People's Key should be a rewarding listen. It's not a return to politics or folk music, but it shows that Oberst still has a way with words. On a personal level, as I've gotten older, I've found myself relating more and more to Digital Ash, an electronic-tinged indie record about the passage of life and death. Key isn't as good or as deep, but tunes like "Shell Games" and "Ladder Song" carry that same love and longing. It's the sort of late period turnaround that could only appeal to old fans.

Granted, there are some awkward moments. Adolph Hitler has joined Oberst's collection of images, for whatever reason. There's a stretch of pop songs--"Jejune Stars" through "Haile Selassie" --come off as catchy but vapid. "Jejune Stars" has the kind of hook I could never have imagined Oberst writing back in the early 2000s: "Why do I hide from the rain?" It's catchy in the moment, but man is that line weak.

The record has a haze to it, with computer bleeps punctuating Oberst's quavering voice. It's sequenced well enough, although "Approximate Sunlight" sucks out all of the energy of the first three songs. Detractors and jaded ex-fans will be bothered by the record's insane spoken word segments. I almost didn't buy the album after streaming opener "Firewall" on NPR only to find out that the first four minutes or so consist of a crazed voice talking about lizard men who can jump between dimensions. But taken overall, The People's Key is a solid goodbye for fans who might have dismissed Oberst after 2006's underwhelming Cassadaga.


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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
inagreendase (April 12, 2012)

Best since 'Fevers & Mirrors'.

d_boons_ghost (April 10, 2012)

That Monsters Of Folk album was so, so good! I know they all said it would be a one off, but I hope that lineup gets back together and makes another one.

Blackjaw_ (April 10, 2012)

...or Monsters of Folk.

Blackjaw_ (April 10, 2012)

This is a really good album that I unfortunately burnt myself out on.

My top 10 Oberst albums would be...

1. Desaparecidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish
2. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
3. Don't be Frightened of Turning the Page*
4. Lifted...
5. Conor Oberst
6. The People's Key
7. Fevers and Mirrors
8. Letting off the Happiness
9. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
10. Cassadaga

The only thing I don't listen to is Outer South.

*Had to include this, but didn't include the other EPs even though they might be better than some of the albums I listed.

bongsmcj (April 10, 2012)

i tried to makes sense of this, but man that review was weak.

yeah, you just got burned by a self proclaimed 'ultimate conor oberst unofficial fan-boy"

since nobody cares, I'm gonna list out a few of my top picks from the man really quickly

1. LIFTED or The Story is in the Soil, Put Your Ear to the Ground
2. Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South
3. Monsters of Folk
4. Desaparecidos - Read Music/Speak Spanish
5. The People's Key

and if I'm feeling like i'm 13 years old again, Fevers and Mirrors or Letting off the Happiness is always a solid bet.

Spazway (April 10, 2012)

The Bright Eyes youtube streamed a mini-party where a few saddle-creek affiliates listened to the full album prior the release. I swear I've watched it 10 times all the way through and it's an essential viewing for a Conor enthusiast. Great album, great review.

PS: The singularity single came out after (/somewhat attached to) The People's Key. Singularity is kind of synthy/electro that would've fit in perfect on The People's Key & In The Real World is the more indie style from the Conor we know and love. I'm sure we'll see more music under the same moniker from Oberst and Mogis.

thegreatestmanalive (April 10, 2012)

Used to love this guy. I saw him at a festival and he mimed every word he sang and did spins while looking up in the air. All while the entire audience (which consisted of 80% teenage girls) discussed how mind blowingly sexy he was. I'm sure the album is fine, but Jesus Christ.

kylewagoner (April 10, 2012)

Love Bright Eyes and everything they've done. Really enjoyed this album after the third listen or so. My favorite is "Triple Spiral."

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