Bright Eyes - Letting Off The Happiness (Cover Artwork)

Bright Eyes

Letting Off The Happiness (1998)

Saddle Creek

Me: "Wait... so... it's one guy, and he calls himself Bright Eyes?"
My Friend: "Yep"
Me: :Loud, groaning sound: "Well, what does he sound like?"
[Long, thoughtful pause]
My Friend: "Like Dashboard Confesional... only better.

And with that bastardized description, I first encountered Bright Eyes. The conversation left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a borrowed copy of his sophmore release Fevers and Mirrors. This was at the height of my Dashboard backlash (I have since come to terms that he is just not for me), so the last thing I wanted to hear was another kid bitching about his lost loves. The CD sat on my dresser for a bit, and then, out of boredom and sheer curiosity, I popped it in. I was blown away. Despite some awkward moments (the kid reading and the doctored interview spring into mind), the album was an amazing collection of poetic lyricism and diverse sounds. Bright Eyes soon became a featured selection in almost all the mixes I made. I couldn't, and frankly, still can't get enough of him.

Letting Off the Happiness, his first release, finds frontman and only constant Conor Oberst mining the gold out of lo-fi 4 track tapes. The first song, "If Winter Ends", starts out with radio hiss and other "found sounds" before revealing a quickly strummed guitar and Conor's cathartic vocals ("How can I expect anyone to give a shit?!" he screams as the song hits its crescendo). Elsewhere, the songs are slow and varied, such as on the country waltz of "Contrast and Compare". Backed by steel guitar, distorted noise in the background, and female backing vocals, the song moves meanderingly to a close of lo-fi noise and screaming. On what might be his most infamous song written, "Padraic, My Prince", Oberst weaves a tale of death and the false promises broken. "Padraic my prince, I have all but died/ From the sheer weight of my shame" he murmers as keyboards and drums swell around him. The songs on this album are varied enough to keep Oberst sometimes ponderous lyricism afloat under the wieght of their own emotion. On the full on rock of "The City Has Sex", the backing musicians thrust the song foward as Oberst reverts to his scratchy, Commander Venus era holler. The one song that suffers a bit on the album is the twenty-five minute closer "Tereza and Thomas". Vaguely based on the book .The Unbearable Lightness of Being, he presents a story of love and escape, yet the emmense length of this song turns it into an endurance test of sorts as the main song ends and lo-fi bleeping and other noises set in.

The songs are mostly culled from very lo-fi tapes, giving it an intimate feel. Members of Nuetral Milk Honey and Of Montreal provide for excellent backing musicianship, helping to flesh out Oberst's songs even more. At the time of making this, Oberst was barely 18. The Dylan comparisons not with standing, Letting Off the Happiness is one of Bright Eyes best releases, and though not as theatrical as Fevers and Mirrors or Lifted, still gives an excellent indicator to the amount of talent Obrest has to work with.