The People’s Key is Conor Oberst’s eighth album under the Bright Eyes moniker, and it’s been more than 11 years since his breakout record LIFTED was released.
Let those facts sink in a second.
Something of the perennial indie darling, the only thing consistent over the years with Oberst has been the shifting and morphing sound of his work. As I wrote earlier this month, he has dabbled in straight-up folk (as well as some alternative country with The Mystic Valley Band) – but the counterpart to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was one steeped in its electronic influences. The People’s Key is more Digital Ash in a Digital Urn than it is any of his other releases.
I would even go as far as to say it’s a darker album than Digital Ash – which is saying a lot, considering how bleak binary code suicide can sound.
The primary drawback to People’s Key is Denny Brewer. Oberst’s flirtation with Rastafarianism reaches its peak throughout the record, and even coming from me, someone who has respect for every religion, Brewer’s talking is more distracting and unnecessary than a constructive additive. Across 4 of the album’s 10 songs, Brewer’s prattling is referred to as “Shamanic vocals.”
Okay. We get it. I guess you’re spiritual now, Conor. Was it imperative to release an album where 40% of your tracks have a crazy man carrying on about reptile aliens who rule the world?
Don’t get me wrong. The music here is good. Real good. Oberst’s electronic exploits have been well done thus far. Digital Ash has become far and away my favorite Bright Eyes release. Songs on People’s Key like the rapid-fire “Jejune Stars” and the band’s attempt at being the Silversun Pickups, “Triple Spiral,” are some of the most accessible and radio-friendly hits yet. It proves that Oberst can do basic, straightforward tunes every bit as well as he can 8-minute behemoths like “The Big Picture” or multi-part gems like “I Believe in Symmetry.”
But, man. Oberst even literally uses the phrase “psycho babble” on “Beginner’s Mind,” which is at times the album’s most delicate, beautiful work. It’s not far from the truth.
Is it all some big inside joke listeners aren’t not in on, or privy to? Kind of like “An Attempt to Tip the Scales,” which was a fake interview with fake Conor Oberst?
It’s whatever, really. I try my best not to think about it while I enjoy the goodness the rest of the album readily serves up. The People’s Key is tremendous, and the most mature-sounding Bright Eyes release yet.
From his 2011 release, this is Conor Oberst as Bright Eyes with “Ladder Song” –
Standout tracks: “Jejune Stars”; “Triple Spiral”; “Beginner’s Mind”; “One For You, One For Me”
Weakest track: “Approximate Sunlight” and homeboy’s acid-infused babbling. Balderdash!
RIYL: Latter Oberst: Mystic Valley Band and Monsters of Folk. Also, Rasta hats.