A couple years ago, a band that everyone likes around these parts released a record of rarities and B-sides. That album was, rightfully so, praised for a stunning coherence of sound and attitude, a feat few compilation albums are able to attain.
Well, chalk up another one right up there next to Cocktails & Dreams.
Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes is an act that people seem to either love or hate, and we don't have to go into that argument here. I would simply say this: If you like Bright Eyes, you will not be disappointed by this collection. If you don't like Bright Eyes, I seriously doubt this album is going to change your mind.
Noise Floor is a collection of rarities and B-sides from 1998 through 2005, marking what I would say is the highlight of Oberst's recording career: the despair-filled days of Fevers and Mirrors and the absolutely magnificent Lifted.... First, we'll start with the good of the compilation.
For one, it's remarkably well-produced. To be honest it took a few spins and some old research of EPs and B-sides to realize that the entire thing hadn't been re-recorded in a single session. It's that coherent. The record starts off amazing, with various sound bytes from the past, through the beat-oriented "I WIll Be Grateful for This Day" to my personal favorite track on the disc, "The Trees Get Wheeled Away," which I had first heard years ago on David Letterman.
And I'd say that's one of the real strongpoints of this album; Bright Eyes does some pretty obscure compilations and splits, vinyl-only releases, things that are pretty hard to find for those not motivated to be discography owners. There's a lot on this album that I had never heard before, unlike on the aforementioned Cocktails & Dreams.
The record continues...and then keeps going.
I've never really been bored with a Bright Eyes album. I really enjoy Oberst as a lyricist and this is his strongest time (my opinion, here) as far as his songwriting abilities. From my aforementioned favorite track:
Anchormen spike their blood / wear masks of mud / cucumbers cut to fill their eyes. / And so no one would know how tired they've grown / of talking and telling their lies. / While your TVs change stations / scroll messages / victims and Christians both drinking blood, / and they pray for the destruction of all hatred / more often, just those with hate for us.And while the songwriting never fails throughout the album, around two-thirds of the way through, it musically hits a lull. While Lifted... is longer by 10 minutes, it also is a complete work that is mixed to maintain a flow and interest. Tracks 9 through 12 ("Weather Reports" through "Amy in the White Coat") on Noise Floor are all fairly Oberst-and-guitar centric, and not until the chanting, clapping sing-along of "Devil Town" does the album regain some velocity.
However, the biggest fault of this record is not in the slow second act. The biggest fault is the lack of including the now infamous "When the President Talks to God." Yes, I realize that it's available on iTunes, but some of us digital music elitists would rather not support Steve Jobs' DRM-encoded empire. Also, it seems like an obvious choice of inclusion, what with Oberst gaining press for singing it on The Tonight Show.
My personal year-end list put this record at a nice spot at #13. I really think that this is a very strong collection, and for any Oberst fan, it will be a good addition to your collection. If you've never heard Bright Eyes, this actually could be a good introduction to a large period of time where Oberst wrote some of his best songs. Just be mindful, this is not perfect, at least not nearly as perfect as Lifted.... But it's pretty damn close.