The People's Key
The People’s Key, Bright Eyes 7th studio album, is a science fiction inspired opus that contemplates creation, the expanding universe, time travel, and alien enslavement of the human race. Conor Oberst, and compatriots Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, leave behind their Americana roots to explore rock and electronic landscapes.
The People's Key opens with a strange, rambling monologue from Denny Brewer, a guitarist from the Texas band Refried Ice Cream. His theories on reptilian aliens mating with early homosapiens and their shape-shifting offspring captivated Oberst’s attention, in part due to his fascination with science fiction and mysticism. His albums with The Mystic Valley Band dallied with these ideas as did Bright Eye’s 2007 release Cassadaga. “Firewall” builds slowly under Brewer’s unraveling tale; a swirling electronic arrangement fades into a single guitar and Oberst’s vocals, his passion for science fiction expressed with a reference to Jules Verne. The tone is set for an album that mostly shuns the Americana roots/folk of past Bright Eyes albums; in its place, harder edged rock and synthesized electronic influences percolate. “Shell Game” is one of the best singles the band has released and highlights Bright Eyes move toward a more contemporary rock sound. If that one doesn’t convince you then “Jejune Stars,” which opens with machine-gunned guitar, will. “Haile Selassie” is an intriguing shift in the band’s sonic exploration. Named for the Ethiopian Emperor, the song’s lyrics borrow loosely from Rastafarian philosophy but not musically. Guitar and drums keep shifting the songs rhythms while Walcott’s piano lays down a parallel base line. “The Ladder” is a plaintive ballad that once again finds religion and science fiction mixing in the mind of the protagonist.
Oberst indulges not just his love of science fiction but also his social activism, particularly in regards to anti-immigration laws, but not in an overt fashion. His lyrics deal with humanity and how we relate to each other. “One for You, One for Me” is the most obvious message song. The title - The Peoples Key - may hold a clue to the central theme of the album; the answers we seek for our future can be found in the past. There is where we’ll discover the genesis of our problems.
The three members of Bright Eyes have successful individual professional lives. Oberst’s solo work and collaborations with the Mystic Valley band is best known. Mike Mogis is in demand as a producer and he’s collaborated with Oberst as Monsters of Folk. Nate Walcott is a sought after arranger who recently toured with Broken Bells. The People’s Key finds them refocusing as a dedicated trio, only bringing in other musicians for additional touches. They also returned to Omaha to record.