In the past few years since the
release of Bright Eyes’ fourth full-length album, Lifted
or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, the
Bright Eyes tale has taken many unexpected twists and turns. Conor
Oberst and his ever-changing line up of musical comrades appeared
on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The
Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” and were a prominent
addition to the MTV2-televised 2003 Shortlist Awards. In October
of 2004 he was invited to join Bruce Springsteen and REM on an
arena tour of swing states in advance of the presidential election.
His performance at those shows sealed his reputation as a creative
force, able to command the attention of thousands of rock fans
with, at times, just his voice and an acoustic guitar.
Over the past two years the young musician has found himself
hurled from his indie rock enclave onto the world’s stage.
While reaching new heights of commercial success, he was hailed
by fans as the finest songwriter of his generation. But he remained,
and remains, an artist unwilling to leave his hometown label for
any major label’s promises.
All the while, critical acclaim has spread far and wide with
Bright Eyes selling out several hugely lauded tours and finding
an ever swelling and ravenous audience throughout the world. Since
Lifted, Oberst has released an almost constant stream of new material
for collaborative EPs, tribute albums, and charity records. He
ventured into the studio with Nebraska folk-pop outfit Tilly And
The Wall, co-producing their debut album Wild Like Children and
then releasing it on his newly established record label, Team
Love. And yet, despite all of this recording and performing, it
is his songwriting that has taken unmitigated precedence.
Conor’s new songs are undeniably his finest to date. These
new compositions have been rolled into two separate, cohesive
records: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital
Ash in a Digital Urn, which will simultaneously be released on
January 24th. While a plethora of this new material was born from
an early 2003 relocation to Manhattan, 2004 saw Conor’s
return to Presto! Studios in Lincoln to record with long time
collaborator and producer Mike Mogis.
Recording since the age of 13 and tagged “rock’s
boy genius” by the music press for the past few years, these
two albums provide unequivocal proof that the now 24 year-old
Oberst belongs to the lineage of great American songwriters. These
albums are a soundly articulated slice of modern American life
rolled into two very different records. The new songs are bursting
with all of the heartfelt poetry for which Bright Eyes records
have earned their acclaim. The rough edges are still there —
the splintering of a note held too long, the crack of the voice
as it reaches slightly too far, the inadvertent thump of a thumb
against a fret — but there is a glorious new level of depth
and texture to the writing and delivery. Recorded back-to-back
and scheduled to be released simultaneously, more out of necessity
than any grand art plan, the two albums work in tandem to elucidate
both sides of Conor’s recent creative output.
The first (as in, the first to be laid down on tape) is titled
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning; a country-tinged mélange
of Conor’s finest acoustic songs, featuring guest vocal
appearances from Emmylou Harris and Jim James (My Morning Jacket).
The second album Oberst recorded, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn,
is a more produced, band-centric album featuring cameo appearances
by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
As has become expected of Bright Eyes recordings, the albums
feature an array of talented comrades: Jesse Harris, Jason Boesel
of Rilo Kiley, multi-instrumentalist and producer Mike Mogis,
Nick White of Tilly And The Wall, Matt Maginn of Cursive, Clay
Leverett and Andy LeMaster of Now It’s Overhead, former
The Good Life member Jiha Lee, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, Clark
Beachle of The Faint, Alex McMannus of The Bruces, Jake Bellows
of Neva Dinova and Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service.