Soundbite | MUSIC: Soundbite | Indy Week

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Bright Eyes is really Conor Oberst, a music vet at 19 (Commander Venus) who puts out solo efforts as Bright Eyes. Fevers and Mirrors is his second full-length on Saddle Creek, the Omaha label and collective that's got a sort of budding Elephant 6 quality. Oberst's oeuvre got tagged as "emo" early on--definitely a ball and chain to drag as you're trying to get a career going. The songs--black, gothic vignettes, in which apartments are coffins, cigarettes make you cough too much and chicks leave after they promise to stay (they can't deal with Oberst's suffering)--make Elliott Smith's lyrics seem like Chicken Soup for the Soul. (Maybe it's a byproduct of growing up in Omaha, with the knowledge that you're never far from a slaughterhouse.) It's easy to be put off by Oberst's vocal affectations: In an effort to wring as much angst as he can out of each note and syllable, his voice quavers, breaks, howls, and finally chokes in a strangled sob. It'd all be a bit much if he didn't have a genuine genius for melody. The standout track for me, "Something Vague," builds slowly, adding instrumental color (keys, flute), with Oberst switching his vocal part up an octave to add intensity. There's a cool retarded (in the musical sense) drum roll before the song lurches into the soaring, flute-embellished chorus. The next track, "The Movement of a Hand," features mellotron flute and a Lennonesque chorus. Interesting local note: Oberst is the younger brother of Sorry about Dresden's Matt Oberst (hence the Bright Eyes/SAD cool bill last month at Go! Rehearsal).

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