Conor Oberst has been a huge musical presence in my life for the last 7 years now. Whether it was with his main outfit Bright Eyes, or his solo project with the Mystic Valley Band or his supergroup Monsters of Folk, I have always had his emotive, jangly voice lingering in my mind. Seven years doesn't sound like a big deal until I consider that nothing else-- No book or film or show -- has stayed so consistently part of my tastes. It's strange, and a little scary, to think that one prolific artist has become such an impression in my mind.
The People's Key is, possibly, the last Bright Eyes album. If it is, it's an end of an era, although I'm sure that Oberst will still be churning out songs in one band or another. It may not have the same aesthetic or goal, but it will come from a similar place. I looked forward to this album with the high hopes that it would be a culmination of everything Bright Eyes that swept old and new fans along for the ride.
I don't know if it does that, or even if it should. What's sure is that there isn't really an air of finality to this album, unless you put it there yourself. I like it and will listen to it until smoke comes out of my iPod, but that's already a given. Mostly, it's noted for moving away from the folksy/country/americana roots style that they had been playing up (to tremendous success) since I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. You'll find much less honky tonk organs and slide guitar crooning in the background. Instead, we're given a sound that's a little more new age yet also a little bit thrashing. Hard guitar and attempts at synth characterize the album's standouts.
If Cassadaga was the natural evolution of I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, then The People's Key comes from an alternate universe where Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was the hit album of the duo that got everyone's attention. It evolves the basic electronic sounds of Digital Ash, mixes it in with a lot of rock and roll, and wraps them around the Bright Eyes base of maximalist confessions.