February 7, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 40°F


Lead singer leaves group with homage to folk rock

Last year, Bright Eyes’ lead singer Conor Oberst was touring the West Coast and recording music as Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. But now he returns one last time under his original moniker, Bright Eyes, to produce the final album with the band before launching his solo project. Oberst wanted his last record to be memorable and different, and with “The People’s Key,” he mostly succeeds.

After the success of his 2002 album “Lifted,” Oberst became an influential part of the emo-folk movement. While he has recently experimented with more country-folk-inspired albums, like Bright Eyes’ last release, “Cassadaga,” “The People’s Key” returns to the band’s original rock base. Pop-rock tendencies in a few songs like “Jejune Stars” give the album an upbeat, heavily synthesized feel with Oberst singing as enthusiastically as he can on every track.

Another standout track is “Shell Games,” which starts with simple yet dynamic piano chords then gradually brings in synthesizers and drums to match Oberst’s classic lyrics about feeling overwhelmed and helpless. The track is reminiscent of those on “Lifted,” but Oberst’s mature and polished sound comes through.

The album’s constant use of recorded ramblings about other earthly dimensions and life forms by Danny Brewer of Refried Ice Cream doesn’t add anything interesting to the album and eventually wears on listeners. These distracting sound bites are most notable on the first track, which begins with Brewer talking for more than two minutes, and, in the end, adds nothing to the song. Despite the flaws, Oberst has produced a mature final album, one that will leave Bright Eyes ending on a high note.

3 out of 4 stars