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The People's Key

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Performer Notes
  • Returning to Bright Eyes after a three-year solo-ish sojourn, Conor Oberst switches gears for The People's Key, downshifting from the rustic canyon rock of the Mystic Valley Band so he can ride a moody modern rock vibe not too dissimilar from Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Passing resemblances aside, The People's Key is quite different in tone and tenor than Digital Ash, the somewhat tempered corrective to the self-styled major statement I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. Like the Mystic Valley albums before them, The People's Key is deliberately not designed as a major statement; perhaps it possesses recurrent themes -- spirituality drifts through the album, often taking shape in vague Rastafarian sentiments; the album is bookended by murmured recitations that play like library finds, not spoken truths -- but the album lacks heft. Generally, the songs are concise -- the opener and closer flirt with seven minutes but that's all due to the elongated narrations -- driven by melody and bearing nicely textured arrangements that leave plenty of space for analog synths lifted from the early days of MTV. Disregarding the lyrics -- something that is not easy or necessarily optimal with Oberst, who is continuing to whittle away his overwritten excesses -- The People's Key is Bright Eyes' poppiest record by some measure, trading anthems with the weight of America on their shoulders for sculptured miniatures. Perhaps it lacks ballast and gestalt, but Bright Eyes arguably operates better on a smaller scale, trading pretension for fractured pop that cuts into the cranium with skewed precision. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Professional Reviews
Rolling Stone (p.60) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The latest dispatch from Planet Conor weaves the weird knowledge he's accrued over the years into a rich, sprawling, fragmented record....He manages to be everything at once: folkie and punk, old soul and eternal boy, high-plains drifter and hipster heartthrob."

Spin (p.76) - "THE PEOPLE'S KEY proves Oberst has learned to balance a cutting perspective with a bleeding heart."

Alternative Press (p.98) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "From the blast-beat breaks during 'Jejune Stars' to the laid-back Grandaddy vibe of 'Triple Spiral' and the philosophical piano ballad 'Ladder Song,' THE PEOPLE'S KEY adds some new elements..."

Magnet (p.42) - Ranked #7 in Magnet's '20 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "'Approximate Sunlight' haunts and skulks among his very best."

CMJ - "The brilliance of the album is taking individual phrases and matching them with perfect tonal or dynamic shifts. The alternately piano and guitar-driven songs are masterfully crafted..."

Billboard (p.40) - "[F]or all their diversity and maturity, these songs couldn't have been written by anyone else, and this welcome return shows that the three years since the last Bright Eyes album have been well spent."

Q (Magazine) (p.100) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[H]ere, his rock and electric/synthetic tendencies are to the fore, the conceptual challenges coming thick and fast.'

Paste (magazine) - "THE PEOPLE'S KEY is a return to immediacy....The instrumentation is raw and electric -- guitars and synths battling it out over Walcott's always inventive drumming."

Record Collector (magazine) (p.91) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "This is an album of economy, and is deftly played....A definite, confident progression for Bright Eyes."

Uncut (magazine) (p.85) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Mike Mogis produces, but rather than pedal steels and acoustic guitars, here reference points are as far-flung as New Order, Arcade Fire and The Cure. The stylistic shifting seems to come easily to Oberst..."
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