Conor Oberst is a complex man. That’s been evident with his wide array of projects over the past 2+ decades, his most prominent being Bright Eyes. With a memorable passionate delivery throughout his catalogue, tons of teens (myself included) embraced albums like I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning as a timeless indie classic. As such, I’m enthralled to see what Bright Eyes has brewed with their first record in nine years, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.
Far from conventional, Bright Eyes continues their polarization within this new LP. The storytelling lyricism returns with “Dance and Sing,” after “Pageturner’s Rag” exists as an atmospheric immersion track. Steel pedal and orchestra within the former make for an unmatchable depth, with a lot going on at any one point of the song. Supplemental guitar, both in acoustic and electric, make “Just Once in the World” a folk romp.
Single “Mariana Trench” caught my attention with a downplayed drum section in the pre-chorus, but the rest of the song was pretty par for the Bright Eyes course. Slow as can be, “One and Done” flips between reverb and an austere proceeding on a whim.
The sporadic surprises continue with “Pan and Broom”s tonal shift, hearkening to the mysticism of The Doors through this track thanks to dreamy keys. The intricacies of “Stairwell Song” prove that Bright Eyes’ willfulness to experiment make for high-value productions with each individual piece.
Big returning single “Persona Non Grata” made for a captivating response from fans back in March, with excitement for this album garnered thanks to a return to form for Bright Eyes. This was the one that resonated with me and was stuck in my head after first listen. “Tilt-A-Whirl” is brief but tells its somber story with the time it’s given.
A piano drop, “Hot Car in the Sun” is a distressing departure to tug a heartstring or two of the listener. The choral backing in “Forced Convalescence” adds flair to the single that could be mistaken for a Beatles song. “To Death’s Heart (In Three Parts)”s prominent guitar lead is one of my favorite parts of Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, as the stellar drumwork isn’t far behind.
“Calais to Dover” sprinkles in some impressive guitar hooks with a charismatic solo to boot. Closer “Comet Song” retains the compositional complexity of the rest of the album and wishes the listener well with a pleasant outro with triumphant trumpets and strings.
It’s been a while, but Bright Eyes still shows a strong effort in Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was. The indie/folk record won’t appeal to everyone, but its bolstering talent is undeniable. It serves as a “welcome back” to fans but the indie landscape has changed in the almost decade of inactivity. Give it a spin if you’re reminiscing of the 2000s era of jams.
A press copy of Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was was provided by Secretly Group.