Bright Eyes | Four Winds EP (Saddle Creek)

cd_brighteyesWith Four Winds EP, Bright Eyes' first new release since the double infusion, the multifaceted Conor Oberst has chosen sides in a resolute way.

 

 

 

 

Remember that double album—oh, sorry; technically it was two albums, released simultaneously yet separately—that was all the rage in late 2005? One disc (I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning) had more of an alt-country feel, while the other (Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) was indie dance music. With Four Winds EP, Bright Eyes' first new release since the double infusion, the multifaceted Conor Oberst has chosen sides in a resolute way.

In case you aren't sure—too lazy to slip the disc from its case, say—the label has made it easy for you: on back of the case (advanced press edition, mind you), the small band photo (Oberst with longtime collaborators Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, the core trio joined by a multitude of guests within) portrays the three in the midst of a clearing, seated in the back of an old, red pickup truck.

Rugged and rustic it's not, but Four Winds is a definite homage to country and western, folk and roots. This six-song EP—on the heels of last year's rarities disc, it's yet another tide over until the next proper full-length—is chock-full of harmonicas, pedal steel, and boot-stomping ditties. The self-titled opener begins with a fiddle strumming what sounds oddly like a countrified version of the refrain to "Da Do Ron Ron." Musically, this is a feel-good song; lyrically, it's more of Oberst's sturm und drang, this time in an homage to the Old Testament's Whore of Babylon. "Reinvent the Wheel" returns to present day, both sonically and lyrically.

Where "Smoke Without Fire" is a campfire tune, an end-of-the-road saga featuring a vocal interlude by M. Ward, "Stray Dog Freedom" has serious designs on the '70s. (And yes, it is the tale of a stray dog who was saved but ran away. What tha–?) You really can't take the screaming guitar interlude seriously, not at all.

We get back to the storytelling on "Cartoon Blues," wherein Oberst relays a conversation with a washed-up poet. Throughout the prose-song, he offers glimpses into his psyche, greeting "an old friend, a constant/ the blues." With lines such as "So I sleep with the fan on to drown out the street/ and the noise rising up from the bar underneath/ and for that inconvenience all my drinks are free/ so I guess it's just as well," we're in the moment right alongside him, and this is where Bright Eyes truly shines. This one's rocking, this one's introspective without being assumptive; this song's easily the highlight of the disc. One more foray into lonesome folk—"Tourist Trap"—and we're done; see ya next time, kids.

With guest appearances by such notables as Maria Taylor, Rachel Yamagata, Janet Weiss, Ben Kweller, and M. Ward, Bright Eyes' latest continues Oberst's trend of blending politics and inspiration with collaborative jam sessions. Though he's never been an optimist, Four Winds finds Oberst more as tired, old soul than youthful eye-opener. While embracing his folk roots isn't necessarily a bad thing, staying true to his own voice and vision has to take precedence. Here's hoping next time Oberst dumps the famous friends and plays his own song. C+ | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Neil Young, feathered hair, entertaining thoughts of suicide

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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