It’s become a Bright Eyes tradition to start their records with a sound collage; Cassadaga opens with a woman speaking of the occult, Fevers and Mirrors opens with a little boy reading, and this record begins with Denny Brewer, a friend of frontman Conor Oberst’s, pontificating on everything from Hitler to the fourth dimension. The rolling Texan voice seems to slow time to create a Bright Eyes bubble in which the listener can extol the virtues of The People’s Key.
Oberst has returned to his very roots, his voice sounding as if recorded in the same bathroom as Padraic My Prince on second track Shell Games. His echoing tremulous voice is as emotionally resonating as on 1998’s Letting Off The Happiness. Though the voice remains achingly tender, Oberst has matured into his thirties and takes us on the journey with fewer devastating moments, focusing on sharp blows in the form of perfected rock songs, like the hooky Jejune Stars with rambling guitar as its guide. The Rastafarian movement’s ethos of prosperity and peace is championed in Haile Selassie, with lines like ‘Children they fill the bleachers/One is the next Ceasar/Keep all theirminds collected/Until he comes.’
The lyrics are some of Oberst’s finest, especially in the poignant piano simplicity of Ladder Song, as his trembling voice mulls over religion and mortality with couplets like ‘You’re not alone in anything/you’re not unique in dying.’ Elsewhere on Approximate Sunlight he mourns the loss of childhood fantasies and hard living with ‘I used to dream of time machines/Now it’s being said we’re post everything.’
Bright Eyes continue to make music that resonates with the confused, self-conscious, wide-eyed in all of us.