Thursday, February 22, 2007

Miserable Four Winds Addendum

I received my Four Winds EP in the mail today. As the title track played, I realized that I judged too harshly. On vinyl, "Four Winds" is a much better song aesthetically than I originally had thought. Some songs just sound better on vinyl. The violins are not nearly as grating on this softer format. Besides, I'm not convinced the MP3 I heard was of the best quality. The chorus of "When Great Satan is gone...the Whore of Babylon" is classic. This isn't wobbly/warbly Conor Oberst. He sings it pretty straight up and really stretches his sound to a more traditionally country one. I definitely judged this one too quickly.

The second track, "Reinvent the Wheel", has a very poppy piano piece that would be right at home on any adult contemporary alternative station. (CD101, I'm looking your way.)

M. Ward guests on "Smoke without Fire" in as haunting a Bright Eyes song as I've ever heard. It's got that airy, echo-y, empty feel of all your favorite Patsy Cline or Hank Williams classics. It makes me want to listen to some Mazzy Star stuff from the early nineties. The flugelhorn that cuts between Oberst's and Ward's parts is placed perfectly between the two halves of song/conversation. The song builds and builds in intensity until it echoes out at the end.

I turned the record over. (You don't hear that much anymore.)

"Stray Dog Freedom" opens side b with a very seventies wail, then it breaks down a little for Oberst's voice. It has a very Sufjan Stevens feel without all the theatrics. Of course, I remember when I thought Conor Oberst was the most theatrical songwriter in indie rock. If he's not listening to too much Sufjan, it might be too much Wilco. However, the production is tight; it's quiet when it should be quiet and laid back and loud when it's time to raise the lighter.

Wobbly-voiced Conor Oberst returns for "Cartoon Blues" which kind of describes the indie-emo he is so responsible for. Again, there's way more piano in this record than I've heard for a while from Bright Eyes. Near the end, the song breaks down with some background TV noise (ala many of his earlier releases) with some strange computerized backing vocals. It's effective, because it then instantly returns to the original sound that crescendos to the end. This song would get a huge roar live.

"Tourism Trap", one of my favorite tracks of late, follows the noisy ending of "Cartoon Blues". There something about Oberst's descriptions of urban life using organic terms, referring to traffic as a pack of dogs and commenting on the lack of trees. His mood or state of mind mirrors the emptiness of living amongst so many strangers. This kind of track can always save a record, not that this EP needed one.

I keep waiting for Bright Eyes to put out a flop, but this EP is no waste of vinyl. Conor Oberst continues to evolve as a musician and songwriter without doing too much. Even his electro-influenced Digital Ash in a Digital Urn really grew on me. But that album and this release only prove that Bright Eyes should stick with folk and country records.

On a side note...The only part of this release that was a letdown was that I can't yet download the MP3 format. My guess is that I will have to wait for the release date which I think is Tuesday.

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