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Conor plugs in,
This review is from: Digital Ash In A Digital Urn (Audio CD)
Bright Eyes fourth and fifth albums were released in tandem, on the 24th of January 2005, they both showcased two different directions and parting points, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, as the title suggests was more electronic while its counterpart I'm Wide Awake It's Morning draws from a country influence. Two obvious footnotes for the alternate albums were two singles off Bright Eyes last album Lifted, Lover I Don't have to Love has a keyboard hook, a string section and an expansive sound paving the way for Digital Ash. Whilst Bowl of Oranges featured a soul acoustic guitar and upfront vocals, leading the way to I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.
The album opens with a Kid A-ish, styled track Time Code which automatically disconcerts the listener and forces their ear to either pay attention or switch it off, something Oberst has done on every Bright Eyes album most notably, The Big Picture on Lifted and Spindle A Darkness A Fever And A Necklace on Fevers and Mirrors.
Another less obvious distinction of the sister albums, is while I'm Wide Awake's lyrics and vocal delivery are harrowingly honest and personal. The no1 US single Lua and first day of my life are good examples, Digital Ash benefits greatly from all encompassing lyrics and word play, as if Oberst is grappling with something bigger. He tackles fate on the outstanding I Believe in Symmetry and death on the equally brilliant Easy/Lucky/Free.
Take it easy (love nothing) is one of my favourite ever Bright Eyes tracks and was just piped to US no. 1 by I'm Wide Awake's Lua. Take it Easy is a tale of a one night stand with a good friend set too an electronic beat and a shimmering keyboards, which spiral down beautifully at the close. This is where Digital Ash really kicks off, track six, Hit the Switch has Conor vowing to quit drinking, feeling alienated from his friends but then getting over it and embracing what little good there is in life. All over a sumptuous back drop courtesy of Nick Zimmer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
I Believe in Symmetry is a paean to accepting all that life throws and getting on with it and for the first time Conor sounds like something he's never sounded before, he actually sounds happy, he's glad to be alive. No longer threatening to drive himself of a cliff or chocking himself on a bathroom floor (see Letting off the Happiness). The results are glorious with strings rising and falling at the tracks climax, a definite highlight of Digital Ash.
Track ten Light Pollution is a fantastic tribute to a seemingly old man who encouraged Conor early on before he `lost control' listening to the radio. Its pounding drums and unrelenting guitars merge in a spellbinding electronic wave.
The final track Easy/Lucky/Free is a song about the acceptance of death with lines about war, a friend's burial and heaven. Easy/Lucky/Free has the albums best lines for example "once the satellites deceased it blows like garbage through the streets of the night sky to infinity". As an album closer it's superb and up there with Take it Easy as the albums best track. It shows Conor looking forward, moving on and again perhaps even content.
Unlike its sister Digital Ash is an album of peaks and troughs, the highlights are some of Bright Eyes greatest songs and will leave you dizzy but they can't disguise the albums flaws, there are a few weaker tracks on here but strangely the album doesn't feel any worse for having them just more complete. It is my favourite album of the two but not the one I'd recommend to the new listener. What Digital Ash In a Digital Urn is, is a fantastic attempt to push the boundaries, the forward looking song structures and wide ranging lyrics paint a, ahem, bright future for Conor's band. Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is an album of continuity that will get better with time.