The People’s Key, the latest release from Conor Oberst’s indie-folk band Bright Eyes since Cassadega in 2007, is officially being released February 15, 2011, but will be streaming online in it’s entirety through NPR’s “First Listen” series.
The 46:58 album can stream as one track or listeners can click on individual songs to hear. Bright Eyes has been around since 1995, producing timeless albums and gathering devoted fans, but Oberst has been growing as an artist throughout that time. Bright Eyes has a distinctive sound but the overall tone of each album changes, and The People’s Key is no exception.
The album is a huge leap from the clear, twangy sound of Cassadega, but follows the pattern of starting off the album with a sound clip. A deep voice speaks ominously of time travel, aliens and different dimensions (it’s a bit difficult to follow). As the music takes over, Oberst’s voice rings out not clearly, but with a deeper tone as though through a haze of effects. He sounds confident, and while he still fills his songs with lyrics like encoded poetry, Oberst seems to be thinking about what he’s saying more and tackling his subjects with a wiser perspective.
The first song eases into the second with upbeat piano chords and a comforting sound. I chose to listen to the album as a continuous track and enjoyed it more as the songs kept coming. It might be a sound for Bright Eyes fans to get used to in comparison with their old favorites (like my personal favorite 2005s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning), and seems like an experimental record as the band dealt with what to do after their hiatus, but it undoubtedly has infectious melodies and those profound lyrics we expect from Oberst.
The title song appears halfway through the album, with a stuttering guitar start that carries the song in the background and an upbeat twist that is perfectly placed to rejuvenate the record. As the music drops and his voice ethereally sings “the people’s key/ ringing, filling, everything/ the theme repeats/ thinner than the galaxy” you realized how much you’ve missed having Bright Eyes release new material. The album has a great flow, fluctuating at the right moments and forming a rich, deep sound overall.
For those who think that Conor Oberst can do no wrong, and The People’s Key has the make to be a new favorite for all those fans. Its complicated and captivating but still catchy enough to keep it playing in the background. If you’re curious for a listen, stream it here through NPR.