The front man of Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst who has released a huge number of records. Bright eyes have released 9 records, but nothing since 2011. Conor Oberst has released 11 solo records. He was originally in a group called Commander Venus who released 2 records. He has occasionally played in a group called Desaparecidos who have released 2 records. He was in a “supergroup” called Monsters Of Folk who released 1 record and he formed Better Oblivion Community Center with Phoebe Bridges who released 1 record in 2019.
Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground (or, as I shall refer to it “Lifted”) was released in 2002 and was the 4th record that Bright Eyes released. “Rolling Stone” listed it as the 4th best record of the year, Wikipedia define the genre of the record as “Indie-folk”, “Indie-rock”, “Folk-rock” and “Emo”. Apparently “Emo” music is “a rock music genre characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics.” Well, hey, that sounds like every record I like. Personally, I would define the sound as Independent-Folk-Rock. There are drums, brass and strings on the record but the main defining characteristic is Conor Oberst’s voice which is manic, sometimes out of control yet still remaining tuneful and emotional.
The first song is “The Big Picture” which starts with the sound of two people chatting, getting into a car, switching on the wipers and driving off. This introduction lasts for nearly two minutes. It’s worth pointing out that the whole album is nearly 75 minutes long which explains why it is a double vinyl album (currently selling for over £40 on Amazon) or a single CD (currently less than £10). The music is not afraid to spread out. A guitar starts playing a few notes and then Conor starts singing, pretty much unaccompanied through the whole song. The sound of the driving car is maintained through the song. It might be Jenny Lewis that adds occasional harmonies. The song is addressed to someone (presumably himself) who is going through a crisis of confidence. Every song on the record is replete with lyrics like this: “So you can try and live in darkness but you will never shake the light/It will greet you every morning/and it will make you more aware with its absence at night/when you’re wrapped up in your blanket, babe, that comfortable cocoon./But I have seen the day of your awakening boy and it’s coming soon.” Occasionally his voice breaks with outraged emotion. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste. I can imagine someone thinking ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself and wallowing in misery. Snap out of it’. Personally, I love it. In the last verse when he sings “So you can struggle in the water and be too stubborn to die”, he sounds desperate, out of control and he holds on to the last word singing it repeatedly until the whole song stops to leave static and the sound of a radio which lasts for nearly a minute.
Track 7 is “Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come”. Lyrically, it’s a similar mood to the other songs on the record: “They say they don’t know when but a day is gonna come when there won’t be a moon and there won’t be a sun. It will just go black. It will just go back to the way it was before.” There are a few phrases in this song which remind me of “The Sunset Tree” by The Mountain Goats. It sounds like he is remembering a strict upbringing. Having sung about his father, the next verse is “And you think I need some discipline. Well, I had my share. I’ve been sent to my room. I’ve been sat in a chair and I held my tongue. I didn’t plug my ears. No, I got a good talking to.” Instrumentally, this song is very busy with a full sound including trumpet, strings and some great drumming. The best bits are where Conor loses it and sounds a little like Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes. The song ends in desperation. “Could you please start explaining?/You know, I need some understanding/Could you please start explaining?/You know, I need some understanding/Could you please start explaining?/You know, I need some understanding/Could you please start explaining?/You know, I need some understanding”
The 13th and last song is the charmingly titled “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And Be Loved)”. It’s over 10 minutes long. It starts with Conor demanding “Can I get a goddamned timpani roll to start this goddamned song. Tonight it’s this goddamned song for all you goddamned people.” The drums lead us into a jaunty upbeat song which includes some wonderfully prescient lyrics “Well I should stop pointing fingers;
reserve my judgment of all those public action figures, the cowboy presidents. So loud behind the bullhorn, so proud they can’t admit when they’ve made a mistake. While poison ink spews from a speechwriter’s pen, he knows he don’t have to say it, so it, it don’t bother him. “Honesty”, “Accuracy” is just “Popular Opinion” and the approval rating’s high and so someone’s gonna die. Well ABC, NBC, CBS: Bullshit. They give us fact or fiction? I guess an even split. And each new act of war is tonight’s entertainment.
We’re still the pawns in their game.” Again, the arrangement is excellent – there’s a loose “indie” sound, very strong, emotional vocals, interesting lyrics and, finally, some optimism in the last words. This song is all wrapped up in a jaunty melody. “Where was it when I first heard a sweet sound of humility? It came to my ears in the goddamn loveliest melody. How grateful I was then to be part of the mystery, to love and to be loved. Let’s just hope that is enough.”
Today is a very flat day for me. The unremitting sameness of every day is starting to take its toll. Walking the dog, reading Anne Tyler, writing this blog, talking to friends, watching television, learning how to program in Python, easing myself back into the Samaritans, continuing to lose weight – you’d think these things would be enough but they’re not. I need to get out of the house or, at least, know when I’m going to be able to do that. The words of this Bright Eyes album, while they may be a little angst-ridden, “Sixth Form”, melodramatic, do bring some relief. Illogically, I take some comfort from “They say they don’t know when but a day is gonna come when there won’t be a moon and there won’t be a sun. It will just go black. It will just go back to the way it was before.”
2 thoughts on “Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground by Bright Eyes”
Ha! Again, one of the best! Certainly a desert island disc for me.
(I have recently been rinsing BOCC – not such a chore as there ain’t too much of it!)
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