By ELI JACE >
As we step carefully six feet apart to avoid total societal collapse, Bright Eyes have returned to share in our collective moan.
“Persona Non Grata” is the group’s first chunk of new music in 9 long years.
Musically the song is very simple, providing a walking rhythm for singer Conor Oberst to set the words down. The drums waltz exchanging hands with piano and guitar. For the first time the band uses bagpipes adding a haunting surge. The group is still a threepeice with Oberst up front and Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott filling out the rest.
Oberst’s voice is the same shaky lilt it’s always been.
No audible aging heard, and his strangled cry still comes out a desperate blurt here and there. Just like old times. The lyrics are a detailed list of places gone and things done in characteristic Oberstian fashion. “There’s a line out the church / Where your homelessness works / Where the stain glass of crimson / Meets Ezekiel’s Visions,” he sings in the first verse. It’s a tempered message of bedroom crystal-ball examinations.
“Persona Non Grata” was thrown out ahead of schedule to tide over everyone at home on quarantine, a move Run the Jewels and other artists have also done. It’s painful to think how many musicians might be sitting on new music. With this song there aren’t any grand emotional swells, so it may have been the easier song to pick from the upcoming album without dimming the full listen.
Bright Eyes crested in the early-2000s with critical applause and a lovelorn following.
After hitting career peaks rare for overly emotive songwriting, the unit released 8 albums then went dormant after their last full-length, The People’s Key, in 2011. In the years since Conor Oberst has been no slouch. He revived his previous side project, the Guthrie-punk band Desaparecidos after more than a decade, releasing Payola, their second, in 2015. He formed the Mystic Valley Band and toured the world behind 3 solo albums, Upside Down Mountain, Ruminations and Salutations, some of his best work. On one of 2017’s best albums, Strangers in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers, Oberst can be heard, and after the two acts toured together they slipped us another new project last year called Better Oblivion Community Center. Now he’s back where it all started to deliver on his end-times pronouncements.