ALBUM REVIEW: BRIGHT EYES – DOWN IN THE WEEDS, WHERE THE WORLD ONCE WAS (DEAD OCEANS)
Bright Eyes’ nine year hiatus comes to an end in cinematic style with an album that oozes maturity, ambition and expertise from all dimensions.
Throughout the past nine years, the three members of Bright Eyes – Conor Oberst, Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis – have been busy. During this time, Oberst has racked up three solo albums, one Desaparecidos album and 2019’s Better Oblivion Community Centre with Phoebe Bridgers. Nate Walcott has wrote five film scores and appeared on a number of albums, while Mike Mogis was involved in a number of albums as a producer. Phew!
‘Pageturners Rag’ is an opening that is quintessentially Bright Eyes, with an intriguing and sporadic sound collage that has a comfortable sense of familiarity and maturity – a feeling present across the whole album as a whole. This serves to entice you before ‘Dance and Sing’ formally starts the album. This wonderfully ambitious and mature track is matched effortlessly through the arrangement and production. Providing the classic Oberst ups and downs, albeit whilst trading in the anxious whiny tone with a meaningful and confident delivery, he still maintains his knack for impactful lines such as the chorus “cause all I can do is just dance on through and sing” – a line that requires a smile. Okay, you have my attention.
Gracefully gliding through ‘Just Once in the World’ we fall on ‘Mariana Trench’, another brilliantly expansive tune. This song finds itself as a great global and social commentary, which, in a year like 2020, makes for a very satisfying listen. “Look out at that ever-widening money trail and where it goes, where does it go?” was a personal highlight lyric. The stretch from ‘One and Done’ to ‘Stairwell Song’ is wonderfully characterful and cinematic. Nate Walcott’s skills for film scoring is abundantly clear and is masterfully handled by producer Mike Mogis.
This stretch then lands on the first single released, ‘Persona Non Grata’. The vulnerable delivery from Oberst radiates melancholic feelings and showcases the impeccable maturity and ambition shown throughout this album. The tight, focused production provides a clear atmosphere for this story to occur. The bagpipes playing the hook are sombre, emotive and tastefully arranged. All these characteristics paint a picture of a broken individual and someone that can exploit them. The expert use of harmony in the last chorus makes clear who is the villain and who is the victim.
The pace of the album is well managed with tracks like ‘Hot Car in the Sun’ and ‘Calais to Dover’ – a track that would not be out of place on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning or Cassadaga. These fit either side of ‘Forced Convalescence’ and ‘To Death’s Heart (In Three Parts). These two tracks emote from honest human emotions to large cinematic textures. The clear and honest vocals issue out poetic human commentaries that are simple and relatable – “There’s no escaping the house work, or the bank clerk, or the priest. They’re waiting for me.”
‘Comet Song’ brings the album to a close in relaxing fashion and the feeling of a band plus orchestra playing live in a room – a calming and familiar feeling. The song has a big climatic ending, gloriously fading out to sound collages reminiscent of the opening, bringing the album full circle.
Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was brings Bright Eyes back with style and fits in seamlessly with the trajectory they jumped off nine years ago, and the level of expertise that has been created by all three members is clearly felt. The degree of maturity present is something not heard on previous Bright Eyes albums, however, this maturity has by no means faltered their ambition. Ultimately, Bright Eyes have returned with one of their best albums to date.