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Sometimes it feels like you hear a Bright Eyes song with your whole body. From Conor Oberst’s early recordings in an Omaha basement in 1995 all the way up to 2020, Bright Eyes’ music tries to unravel the impossible tangles of dissent: personal and political, external and internal. It’s a study of the beauty in unsteadiness in all its forms – in a voice, beliefs, love, identity, and what fills up the spaces in-between. And in so many ways, it’s just about searching for a way through.
The year 2020 is full of significant anniversaries for Bright Eyes. Fevers and Mirrors was released 20 years ago this May, while Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning both turned 15 in January. The latter, a singer-songwriter tour-de-force released amidst the Bush presidency and Iraq war, wades through incisive anti-war rhetoric and micro, intimate calamities. On the title track and throughout the record, Oberst sings about body counts in the newspaper, televised wars, the bottomless pit of American greed, struggling to understand the world alongside one’s own turmoil. In its own way, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning carved out its place in the canon of great anti-war albums by being both present and prophetic, its urgency enduring 15 years later.
In 2011 the release of The People’s Key, Bright Eyes’ ninth and most recent album, ushered in an unofficial hiatus for the beloved project. In the time since, the work of the band’s core members – Oberst, multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Walcott – has remained omnipresent, through both the members’ original work and collaboration.
In recent years, Mogis produced records for beloved folk acts First Aid Kit and Joseph, among others, as well as mixed the fine-spun ennui of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakthrough 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps. Mogis and bandmate Walcott also teamed up to write the original scores for The Fault in Our Stars, Stuck in Love, and Lovely Still, and Walcott worked as a solo composer scoring number of independent feature-length films. Walcott spent extensive time on collaboration; in addition to his arrangement work for Mavis Staples, First Aid Kit, and M. Ward, he contributed studio work to artists ranging from U2 to jazz guitarist Jeff Parker, and also toured heavily as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Oberst, who’s nearly 30 years into a prolific musical career, spent the last decade in similarly productive fashion. Across three years he released a string of solo albums: Salutations (2017), Ruminations (2016), and Upside Down Mountain (2014), as well as guested on records by First Aid Kit, Phoebe Bridgers, and Alt-J. His punk band, Desaparecidos, emerged from a 13-year hiatus in 2015 with the thunderous sophomore LP, Payola, a white-knuckled disarray of hollered political fury. And at the top of 2019, Oberst and Bridgers debuted their new band, Better Oblivion Community Center, digitally dropping the critically-lauded eponymous debut LP alongside a surprise performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The heart at Bright Eyes’ songwriting still looms culturally, in films and TV shows and through re-imaginings by other artists. Mac Miller covered both “Lua” and “First Day of My Life”; Lorde’s version of the penultimate The People’s Key track, the funereal-waltz “Ladder Song,” was a focal point of The Hunger Games’ soundtrack; The Killers covered “Four Winds” for their Spaceman EP; and Lil Peep’s “Worlds Away” samples “Something Vague” while Young Thug’s “Me Or Us” samples “First Day of My Life.”
Bright Eyes’ expansive catalog has traversed genre, sound, and countless players; unpolished demos or fuzzy folk, electrified rock or country twang. The sharp songwriting and musicianship is all anchored in Bright Eyes’ singular ability to flip deep intimacy into something universal. For so many, for so long, listening to Bright Eyes has been like hearing yourself in someone else’s song – a moment of understanding or illumination, knowing you’re on the same team looking for a way to move through of all this shit.
And while 2020 is a year of milestones for the band, it’s also the year Bright Eyes returns, newly signed to indie label Dead Oceans. Amidst the current overwhelming uncertainty and upheaval of global and personal worlds, Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott reunited under the moniker as both an escape from, and a confrontation of, trying times. Getting the band back together felt right, and necessary, and the friendship at the core of the band has been a longtime pillar of Bright Eyes’ output. For Bright Eyes, this long-awaited re-emergence feels like coming home.
The Ascension is the eighth studio album from singer, songwriter and composer Sufjan Stevens and is the long awaited follow-up to Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. One of the most acclaimed albums of 2015, The New York Times praised Carrie & Lowell as “restrained and meticulous” while Pitchfork declared it “a masterpiece.”
In the time between Carrie & Lowell and the forthcoming The Ascension, Stevens also released Oscar-nominated music for the Luca Guadagnino film Call Me By Your Name; a collaborative album entitled Planetarium with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner (The National) and James Mcalister; The Decalogue, a solo piano work performed by Timo Andres; and scored several works for ballet: Reflections (Houston Ballet) and Principia (NYCB).
The Ascension is musically expansive and sweeping in thematic scope.
‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ is Bob Dylan’s first album of original material in 8 years and his first since becoming the only songwriter to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2016. Its 10 tracks include the three new songs released this spring: the album’s lead-off track, “I Contain Multitudes,” the nearly 17-minute epic “Murder Most Foul” and “False Prophet.”
Vinyl: $25.98 PRE ORDER
LP Pressed on black and white vortex vinyl. Includes download.
If 'Joy As An Act of Resistance.' was meant to detail the band's manifesto, then their highly anticipated third album ' 'Ultra Mono' - is the sound of IDLES heading into battle, battering ram in hand, for those tenets. Sonically constructed to capture the feeling of a hip-hop record (Kenny Beats even helped with programming on several tracks), the songs double down on the vitriolic sneer and blunt social commentary of their past work. Not far beneath the surface of their self-admitted sloganeering lies a deeply complex and brutally relevant album that chews up clichés and spits them out as high art for the masses. Active presence and self-acceptance also stand at the core of 'Ultra Mono,' with much of the songwriting done on-the-spot in the recording booth, and the phrase 'I am I' serving as a lyrical and spiritual mantra throughout. Ultimately 'Ultra Mono' is a celebration of community.
Vinyl: $29.98 PRE ORDER
Amassing over 2 billion streams, British four-piece Glass Animals is led by singer/songwriter/producer Dave Bayley with bandmates and childhood friends Joe Seaward, Ed Irwin-Singer & Drew MacFarlane. A fan favorite, their album How To Be A Human Being was one of the most critically acclaimed records of 2016. Now, Glass Animals is back with new album DREAMLAND. Featuring hit singles “Tokyo Drifting” with Denzel Curry and “Your Love (Déjà Vu)”.
How To Be A Human Being has received praise from various press outlets, including Billboard, Pitchfork, The FADER, The Guardian, The Telegraph and more. Glass Animals has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Late Show with James Corden. As well as producing both of Glass Animals’ studio albums, ZABA and How To Be A Human Being, Dave has worked with a number of artists outside of the band, including 6lack, Khalid, Joey Bada$$, DJ Dahi, Flume and MorMor.
Vinyl: $21.98 PRE ORDER
While everyone is social distancing, closing ranks and donning masks while they shop, life can seem somewhat surreal to the senses. Yet, through all of the chaos, one thing is constant, music brings us together. Now, on the 40th Anniversary of the landmark, Los Angeles, and 35 years since the original band have released an album – X, one of the greatest Punk Rock bands in music history, releases ALPHABETLAND today via Bandcamp. The original foursome - Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom, and DJ Bonebrake have now made the album available for fans to purchase and by adapting to this moment, X continues to embody the same spirit they did when they began in 1977.
“When your heart is broken you think every song is about that. These songs were written in the last 18 months & it blows my mind how timely they are,” explained John Doe. “We all want our family, friends & fans to hear our records as soon as it's finished. This time we could do that. Thanks to Fat Possum & our audience.”
Vinyl: $25.98 PRE ORDER
There is a sting in the summer blossom of Ultimate Success Today, Protomartyr' new album. Arriving after Relatives In Descent, Protomartyr's headlong dive into the morass of American life in 2017, Ultimate Success Today is a fitting follow-up for the Detroit band.