Dark times, Bright Eyes

Connor Oberst is a busy man.

As co-founder of one of today’s most influential indie labels, the Midwest’s own Saddle Creek Records, Oberst has his hands full making sure the artists flying under his handmade flag-artists ranging from Cursive to The Faint to Now It’s Overhead-are being taken care of.

As one of the most outspoken opponents to global homogenization via Clear Channel Media (Oberst refuses to have his label’s songs played on Clear Channel-owned radio stations and will not play Clear Channel-owned venues), Fox News (the conservative-leaning media giant has repeatedly come under fire in interviews) and even George W. Bush (Oberst’s political ideologies are no secret-he recently played anti-Bush sets alongside mega-rockers Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe of R.E.M), Oberst is assuredly busy keeping his friends close, and his enemies closer.

As the pioneering force behind alt-folk-indie-rock deity Bright Eyes, Oberst is constantly faced with the daunting task of playing tastemaker for a sea of dissolute, albeit literate and well-dressed, young people.

Know what else? Music fans ought to thank their lucky stars for Oberst’s perseverance.

With everything piled on Oberst’s plate these days, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the one-man artist/mogul/icon was able to release not one, but two-two!-remarkably different albums on Jan. 17-on the same day!-that effectively establish Oberst’s Bright Eyes as both legitimately iconic and the logical heir to the long-vacant singer-songwriter throne previously inhabited by the royal likes of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and countless others.

The new alt-folk Bright Eyes offering-aptly titled I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning-proves that Bright Eyes isn’t trapped in the single-minded youthfulness of previous records anymore. Like the tumultuous world about which Oberst sings, Bright Eyes’ perspective, range and craftsmanship are growing up…and fast.

I’m Wide Awake shows a blossoming Bright Eyes as he intrepidly explores the supple musical ground trodden by his forbearers.

In line with this musical exploration, the other Bright Eyes record-the sparse, stark and fatalistic Digital Ash for a Digital Urn-deals largely with issues much broader, and much more troubling, than ‘My girlfriend left me, I have nothing to live for.’

Digital Ash takes a candid look at our inevitable mortality, but in true Bright Eyes fashion, finds not despair, but surprising hope in its earthly shadows.

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