Apparently someone turned on some vintage rock'n'roll around Conor Oberst, because the Bright Eyes' latest EP is very different from their last two albums. Instead, the "Four Winds" EP embraces an entirely different sound -- countryish, folksy, and with a dash of music-hall at times.
"Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe/There's people always dying trying to keep them alive," Oberst sings in the title song, tearing through a dour song over a rootsy fiddle and guitar, Mexican girl murals, long shadows, the US's existance, and crumbling society.
It's followed up by the strings and alt-rock of "Reinvent the Wheel," and the quietly folksy "Smoke Without Fire." But then it's off to rock'n'roll-land, with the sizzling slow-burn riffs of "Stray Dog Freedom," distorted country-rock of "Cartoon Blues." And he finally finishes it off with a sort of ghostly folk song, full of harmonica and tapping feet. It sounds like a ghost town's theme song.
Conor Oberst always seems to be diddling around with new sounds -- the last two Bright Eyes albums were basically in two entirely different styles. And "Four Winds" shows us a more uptempo, country-inflected side of the band, without losing the doom'n'gloom sociopolitical lyrics.
The music is pretty straightforward -- lots of acoustic guitar, some strings that can shimmer or twang, and the occasional bit of harmonica. And some rapid-clashing piano in music-hall style. And he diddles around with distortion that twists an otherwise ordinary song into a bizarroworld pop tune, with a "baby" voice echoing his.
Despite the upbeat note of most of the music, Oberst always sounds on the verge of tears. No wonder, since his songs predict America's collapse, mocks those who call him a poser, contemplates drugs and "something changing the world/like a new constitution/a thief I would have to pursue/at all times/at all costs/the truth!"
Bright Eyes has a new album coming out soon, and if this "Four Winds" EP is a representative sampling of what's ahead, it's going to be a good one. Different, but enjoyable.