Bright Eyes is a band that is headed by Conor Oberst. The other member of the band weren’t permanent and certain musicians would play on certain songs depending on what instruments would be used. In 1998 their second full length album was released, Letting Off The Happiness. The majority of this album was recorded in the basement of Oberst’s home on an analog eight track reel to reel. The lack of good recording quality added to the album’s sound. The sometimes rough sound goes well with Oberst’s quivering voice. The album is considered to be indie rock, but there is folk/country undertones in songs such as The Difference in the Shades.
Letting Off The Happiness isn’t much like Bright Eyes’ later albums, but the low recording quality is similar to their first full length album, as is the use of a variety of instruments and sometimes unidentifiable sounds. My favorite song on this album is the very first track, If Winter Ends. This song begins with a high-pitched buzzing, random static-like noises, and a sample of children shouting before going into the song that consists of a keyboard, acoustic guitar, and Oberst’s vocals. The lyrics are full of emotion as Oberst sings about having a “cold, winter-set heart” and wanting to be taken to the “perfect spring”, but he doesn’t seem to believe that this exists so he adds “just lie to me and say it’s gonna be alright”. Along with this, the lyrics are self-deprecating and full of doubt, yet they’re comforting in the way they make you feel less alone if you feel the same way.
Contrast and Compare is my second favorite song and it is the third track on the album. It sounds more folk than the first song with a pedal steel guitar, but there area couple instruments used that you wouldn’t typically hear such as the melodica and air organ. Oberst is accompanied by Neely Jenkins of Tilly and the Wall for the vocals, and I love the way their voices sound together. They compliment each other very well and make beautiful harmonies. The lyrics do an amazing job of painting a picture of someone with depression who doesn’t want to address it. The lyrics are full of sadness, but also apathy. My favorite line is the very last one, “I just try to smile and say everything’s fine”, which is followed by a scream. I love this because it represents how he actually feels.
The third best song on this album is A Poetic Retelling of an Unfortunate Seduction, the tenth track. This song has a much darker tone than the rest, with backup vocals by Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes. The meaning of this song could be different, depending on the listener’s perception. Literally, the lyrics seem like they’re depicting Oberst within a strip club or such, but in my opinion the lyrics are deeper. He mentions being in a dark room, which I believe is referring to his mind. The darkness is depression, also conveyed as a foreign woman with eyes that are “black and wet like oil”. The woman ties you up and cages you within her “poisoned womb” and “she might let you out to fly in circles around the room”, this makes me think of the moments you may feel ‘normal’ but your thoughts just spiral down and begin to loop, trapping you in this hopeless circle. The end of this song details how you feel dead, so you aren’t sure if you’re actually living. But you live with this depression and keep falling into these dark trains of thought since it’s the only way you know how to live now.
Even though I am not a fan of the tracks Pull My Hair and Tereza and Tomas, I enjoy this album very much. Overall, I find the lyrics to be meaningful and well written, especially for an eighteen year old. I recommend Letting Off The Happiness to everyone, even though not everyone would enjoy Conor Oberst’s quivering voice. I love his voice, but I can understand how some people wouldn’t. The lyrics mean more to me than anything, though. They’re so well written and only get better in his following albums.
Bright Eyes is currently not together since Conor Oberst has reunited with The Desaparecidos, a five piece post-punk band first started in 2001. Oberst is the vocalist and guitarist of the band, which is currently touring. Before this he was in Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band and a bit later, Monsters of Folk. The Desaparecidos are much different from all of the other bands he was a part of, one example is his songs being more sociopolitically oriented.