The album comes with a gizmo (a ‘spectral decoder’ that turns the wiggly lines of the cover into cartoony pictures and cryptic obscurantist snatches (once you prise the cover out of the plastic case). Kinda funky in a Bazooka Joe Bubblegum Secret Club way. Similarly, the album is kinda obscurely geeky and funky at the same time. The title is a reference to an obscure Spiritualist community and songs tread a chalk line between alt.country and weirdly indie low-fi. Key member, Conor Oberst, is relentlessly prolific, notching up an album a year at least, releasing two at once last year, and sounds like he’s having fun. Lyrics are all over the place, coming from every angle of Conor’s imagination. One moment he’s slagging off religion (all religion, just to be fair-minded…), the next he’s telling a tale, in another tune he’s doing that sad picture thing beloved of alt.country, or again he’s wondering at the mystery of love. It’s a heady mix and I get the feeling he’s more interested in documenting the phases of his mind than cultivating a rock-steady media image.
Bright Eyes have a core membership of three and they make an accomplished and solid sound-picture. Guests appear all over the place, not that you’d necessarily notice them if you’d not been told. Gillian Welch, Ben Kweller of the kooky songs, and Janet Weiss from Sleater Kinney, to name but three. Though apparently laid back, they are a disciplined band, willing to ditch the dreck and polish the pearls. Here they have focused on the country-ish sound that saw ‘I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning’ sell more than it’s simultaneous sister release last year, ‘Digital Ash In A Digital Urn’, and who can blame them. It’s not easy listening though, made plain from the outset by the opening arty-farty dubbed-in radio voices, backed up, strangely with an orchestral sweep of strings. The hard and cinematic lyrics butt up against peculiar word-collages and meanderings around philosophy. The single, Four Winds, is a big swinging thing, not a million miles from The Waterboys but the rest of the album forms a coherent collection, a journey through the landscape of the strange mind of Conor and the sonic imagination of the band. It’s a healthy thing in the Ipod era when two songs get downloaded and the rest ignored.
It’s a big album with ambition, simultaneously easy to get a grasp on and unsettling in mood, one to spend time with.