Conor Oberst, better known as Bright Eyes, has proven himself both prolific and ambitious with his recent release of two simultaneous albums. While "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" takes the safer straight-up folkie route, "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn" is by far a more unique listen for its experimental, frothy production that takes Oberst's dependably simple, stream-of-conscious lyrics for a different kind of ride than lo-fi fare can do.
After the lyrically terse opening with the squeaky "Time Code" comes "Gold Mine Gutted," a bittersweet, coming of age tale with an entrancing melody that will stay sticky on the listener's brain. The urgent "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" makes an instrument out of Oberst's voice with sharp vocal overdubbing, recounting a defunct relationship with a much older woman.
"`Don't take it so bad, it's nothing you did/It's just once something dies/You can't make it live/You're a beautiful boy/You're a sweet little kid/But I am a woman.'"
The singer/songwriter convincingly plays the role of Satan in "Devil In the Details," while later celebrating domesticity in "I Believe In Symmetry."
"Oh I want to learn such simple things/No politics, no history/Till what I want and what I need/Can finally be the same."
Dark humor also occupies the disc on the tongue-in-cheek "Light Pollution," which pokes fun at the American economy, while "Hit the Switch" explores what happens when an individual can take no more and completely shuts themselves off from the world.
Furthermore, Oberst waxes romantic on "Ship In a Bottle," complete with baby cries and romantic clichés, as well as with "Theme to Piñata," which has some of the most mushy words ever set to music.
"Well I wish I had a parachute/Cause I'm falling mad for you/I can see the ground approaching now/But I'm not sure what to do/I feel like the piñata/Once you take a swing at me/If you could just crack the shell open/I think inside you would find something sweet."
While it is not succeeding as well commercially as "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn" is in fact a better record with superior stories and crisper lyrics that, while in need of a few initial listens to become comfortable to the ears, eventually settles in. Springsteen and Dylan comparisons may be premature, but it is plain to see that Oberst is a force to reckon with who is sure to continue to pull in listeners with his talent, wit and humanity.