Bright Eyes’ upcoming release, “The People’s Key,” marks Conor Oberst’s return to the name that first brought him indie fame. Rumored to be his last album with Bright Eyes, the album is a journey through a variety of musical techniques and styles.
Although Oberst’s thematic material has evolved over the course of several albums, this one does not fail to deliver the characteristic lyrical quality of its front man.
Several songs incorporate voice clips and monologues, adding a dramatic element. Oberst also experiments with more upbeat rhythms and instruments.
The album dramatically opens with “Firewall,” rolling off one of these long monologues—most of which seem to be read by the same person and in similar styles.
The speech invokes stories of creation, history and human progress, suggesting the necessity of always moving forward.
“You have to believe in the future, it’s what we have to do,” Oberst sings.
It then evolves into a raw, even melody, over which Oberst’s shaky voice layers historical and biblical imagery, ending in an ethereal chant.
This song could be said to be the most true to Bright Eyes’ general style of acoustic folk rock.
The next track, “Shell Games,” contradicts this entirely, with its somewhat surprising and unconventional use of the synthesizer.
It is followed by “Jejune Stars,” a track with an almost dance-like quality. As usual, through its upbeat melody and rhythm, Oberst raises questions of a higher order.
“Is it true what we’re made of? Why do I hide from the rain?” he asks.
Towards the end, “Ladder Song,” is the record’s representative piano ballad, slightly, but never wholly reminiscent of the band’s very early recordings. Arguably one of the most lyrically rich tracks on the album, it is simple, yet deep. It juxtaposes questions about existence and death with lines like, “See now a star is born / Looks just like a blood orange.”
One of the markings of this album is its reflective, spiritual and instructive take on life.
Oberst makes great use of historical and biblical imagery, not only describing, but interpreting and recommending.
The title track “A Machine Spiritual (In The People’s Key)” is perhaps the best example.
“The people’s key/Ringing filling everything/The theme repeats/Thinner than the galaxy,” Oberst sings.
In a seemingly endless search for truth, he seems to acknowledge that the things we see or hear can offer only limited clues to the future, but that we must rely on each other to discover this truth.
He could also just be cynical. A few songs later, in the closer, “One for You, One for Me,” he seems to mock this supposed idea of unity by stating “You and me, you and me, that is an awful lie / It’s I and I.”
The album is bordered by another monologue at the end of this track, spoken in the same manner as before, but this time accompanied by an almost-heavenly backdrop of sound.
Although continuing to instruct, the speaker appears to shows more uncertainty than before, in the end not being able to recall the word ‘mercy.’
Bright Eyes has created a piece of art dedicated to exploring human strength and weakness—a monumental ending to a diverse career.
The album will be released Feb. 15th on Saddle Creek records.