Thursday, March 10, 2011

Album Review: Bright Eyes - The People's Key (4/5)

American indie rock band Bright Eyes have been around for quite a while, however this seventh album, The People's Key, is my first exposure to them. Their sound is very refined melodic alternative rock with fluorescent pop-studded undertones. It's a little hard to compare, but they remind me of a stripped down, more rootsy Editors or an unconventional Killers—it's a bit of a misguided comparison, since they were established way before those bands existed.

Opening number “Firewall” suggests that this album is more than just a solid rock album—opening with a lengthy narrative that dictates religious and spiritual progression, presenting an argument between good and evil, name-dropping famous historic figures such as Albert Einstein, Satan and Adolf Hitler. The speech is beamed with layers of disquieting soundscape and hollowing textures which segues into its second half, where the singing begins—Conor Oberst's bold, but effectively raspy vocal over lumbering guitar chords, before the moody backdrop and rapid drum beats become stronger for its climatic play out.

Whereas “Firewall” ends on a doleful note, following tracks “Shell Games” and “Jejune Stars” delivers a nice slice of fun upbeat rock, with a fresh pop edge drenched with melody; layered electronic guitars, piano keys, drums and '80s inspired synths. Looking at the band's history, they've never seemed too keen on breaking into the mainstream, however this sounds distinctively radio-friendly.

Reigning in the upbeat, the moody textures resurfaces on “Approximate Sunlight,” a little darker and stripped-down; a murky drub of plodding drums and haunting, rayless guitar chords. It's brilliant—highlighting the lurking depressing mood both musically and lyrically (“Such opulence, such misery. Unwinding, unwinding”). Similarly, emotional piano-laced “Ladder Song” captures that mood quite nicely too, perhaps on a more sensitive note.

“A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)” recalls slightly a galloping, guitar-driven western-styled rock—very stripped-down, cutting from the same vein as “Sunlight” with less moody atmospherics. On the albums weaker second half, distorted guitars and pounding, layered drum work take the forefront on “Haile Selassie,” bleeding with piercing electronic undertones—it's not that interesting “Triple Spiral” is a return to the upbeat indie rock, in the same vein as “Shell Games” whereas “Beginner's Mind” also recaptures that melodic upbeat rock, but more guitar-driven.

The album comes to a close with “One for You, One for Me” which surprisingly sports a spacey, warbling synth-induced backdrop working well against its guitaric front. It's bookended by another extensive narrative speech. The People's Key was a nice find—it's great to hear something out of the ordinary once in awhile and for me out of the ordinary is anything that isn't produced by Dr. Luke, RedOne or JR. It's a strong alternative rock album, with some pop influences, how I like it—there could be a little more variety but in all a good record. It's a shame it's their last though.

Best: Approximate Sunlight, Shell Games, Jejune Stars, One for You, One for Me, Firewall, The Ladder Song

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