tue 22/09/2020

Album: Bright Eyes - Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Bright Eyes - Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

Album: Bright Eyes - Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

Conor Oberst's lauded trio make a welcome return after almost a decade's absence

Burn, baby, burn

During the first decade of this century Conor Oberst was critically anointed as a successor to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. It didn’t seem to make him very happy. His project Bright Eyes, with musical prodigies Nate Walcott and Mike Moggis, twisted and turned through varying musical styles, as if purposefully evading easy definition, while Oberst’s lyrics became increasingly bleak and opaque. Bright Eyes now return, after nine years of absence.

During the first decade of this century Conor Oberst was critically anointed as a successor to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. It didn’t seem to make him very happy. His project Bright Eyes, with musical prodigies Nate Walcott and Mike Moggis, twisted and turned through varying musical styles, as if purposefully evading easy definition, while Oberst’s lyrics became increasingly bleak and opaque. Bright Eyes now return, after nine years of absence. Oberst is no happier, but his cryptic, committed, broken-voiced melancholy is a good fit for these times.

Bright Eyes' last album was 2011’s The People’s Key, which surfed around post-punkish electro-pop. Since then Oberst has worked with loads of people, notably and regularly Phoebe Bridgers, as well as knocking out a punk album. With Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, he’s returned to the source, ready to embrace the indie-burlesque Americana that originally made him. His lyricism is as rich as ever, ranging from the impressive to the astounding. It is not, then, an album made for background listening. It demands the attention and imagination.

There is no clear theme, just an over-arching sense of going down against impossible odds, whether on the British-set break-up song “Calais to Dover” or more enigmatic mopes such as the compulsive, fiddle-accompanied “Dance and Sing”. Some of these songs are small poetic masterpieces: the reverb-laden, echoing piano blues of “One and Done”, perhaps about drinking away sadness, with raw imagery such as a “prom dress covered in blood”, the startling, dense stream-of-consciousness flow of “Persona Non Grata”, or the hazed socio-political wordplay of "Mariana Trench" ("Well, they'd better save some space for me/In that growing cottage industry/Where selfishness is currency/People spend more than they make"). It’s all fulsomely musical too, paring back where necessary, but also given to small ensemble orchestral swoops.

There’s a relentlessness of tone to Down in the Weeds... which, over 14 songs, can be wearing, so it won’t be for all, but there’s no denying that Oberst’s muse is solidly intact, and that there’s some brilliantly evocative maudlin damage here for listening to as the world burns.

Below: watch the video for "Mariana Trench" by Bright Eyes

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