When news fist began trickling out that Bright Eyes would be releasing not one, but two brand new albums in January and that one of those two would be a more experimental/electronic-leaning effort, I have to admit I was intrigued. When Saddle Creek sent out a 10 song sampler in late '04 that featured five songs from each new record, I was completely impressed, but a bit worried that by the time the full lengths arrived, I would already have heard all of the best songs. Luckily, that wasn't the case. So let's take it one release at a time, shall we?
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning is a more traditional Bright Eyes offering. The songs have a country tinge to them, some more than others. The lyrics are delicate and intelligent, as usual. Most of the instruments are acoustic and Connor Oberst's voice routinely goes from a quiet quiver to a raging roar, always keeping the listener captivated and intrigued. Songs like "We Are Nowhere And It's Now" and "Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)" incorporate brass and strings, sewing together a silky, rich tapestry of sound to accompany Connor's brooding tales of heartache. Album opener "At The Bottom Of Everything" and "Another Travelin' Song" (f. Emmylou Harris) are the most traditional country affairs, complete with a honkey tonk bass line and some sweet lap steel. Of course, as we have all come to expect from Bright Eyes, there are a few bare bones "Conner and his guitar" songs, namely the first single "Lua" and "Land Locked Blues" (duet with Emmylou Harris). Overall, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning is a fresh batch of new songs for Bright Eyes' legions of fans to enjoy, as well as a record accessible enough to further broaden his audience.
That brings us to Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. Free from acoustic guitar, bare bones instrumentation and country/folk-leaning songs, this album shows a different side of Bright Eyes. Computerized beats, spacy keyboard sounds and swirly electronic elements are the canvas on which Connor paints with his endlessly impressive lyrics. Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner contributed a great deal to the sonic make-up of this album, adding his skills to songs like "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)", "I Believe In Symmetry" and "Easy/Lucky/Free", easily some of the record's most exciting songs. Where most artists would be happy to conquer a single genre, Connor shows yet again that he's impossible to pigeonhole as a simple folk/rock, alt-country troubadour. With these two simultaneous releases, Connor Oberst proves that, regardless of the music that surrounds him, he has an uncanny ability to touch the hearts and minds of young people through his words.