bright eyes – one and done [single review]

Bright Eyes continue the exploration of mortality through the conduit of spaced-out balladry on latest single One and Done. The instrumentation on this track ranks alongside Bright Eyes’ very best. String and horn sections arranged by Nate Walcott add a cinematic element which sits as an ideal backdrop to Conor Oberst’s cryptic lyrical vignettes.

The track opens with a disembodied voice announcing that he was just “dreaming of you”.  The dystopian images of famine, societal breakdown and old friends in low places suggest that Oberst may have eaten too much cheese before bedtime, however. The feeling of a dream is cemented by the influences drawn from Bright Eyes back catalogue. One and Done could’ve slotted in nicely on 2004’s Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The orchestral arrangement is reminiscent of Cassadega era Bright Eyes. The echoed drums subtly nod to Approximate Sunlight from their last outing, The Peoples’ Key.

Once again, Flea is on bass duties, provided a subtle, yet funky foundation which keeps the track bouncing along throughout the chorus and instrumental breaks. The verses exist as a dirge, with Oberst listing terrifying news almost as casually as society has come to accept it. This building tension is released with an upbeat chorus, with backing vocals by Miwi La Lupa adding texture to the brighter sound. A stirring orchestral break gradually leads to a crescendo of strings and drum rolls which sounds truly epic. Without disregarding the quality of the previous two singles, One and Done seems like an obvious choice for a lead single.

Just like those preceding singles, Persona Non Grata and Forced Convalescence, One and Done zeroes in on mortality and loss. The lyrics here deal with acceptance of the fact:

“This room seems even smaller now than I remember it
Hung mirrors on the walls and the ceiling
There’s no disguising it
There’s no denying it
This little box fits everything there is”

Obersts scoffs at the “masochists all celebrating love”at a wedding, ponders the paradoxical infinity of “fleeting moments” and seems to question if he’s too fixated on how it’s all going to end —

“I’ve seen the sparkle of the diamonds on the watch of the emcee
It’s not keeping time, just shining”

For now, Oberst, Walcott and Mogis’ comeback continues to shine.

 

earl sweatshirt – WHOLE WORLD feat maxo (prod Alchemist) track review

Following a double whammy of divisive releases in the form of 2018’s Some Rap Songs and 2019’s increasingly experimental Feet Of Clay, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile AKA Earl Sweatshirt is back.

The Alchemist is on production duties on WHOLE WORLD. This isn’t the first time he’s worked with Earl. E. Coli and Wind In My Sails are familiar to Earl fans as treasured deep cuts, as well as his more recent work on 2019’s MTOMB. The surprise appearance here is Maxo’s understated verse, which suits the tone of The Alchemist’s drugged-out bass-heavy beat. The track slithers along like a snake trying to eat its own tail, only to be resolved by the next bar. Earl is defying expectations here by minimising his sound, perhaps to the delight of critics of Feet of Clay. As he rapped on Azucar, Sweatshirt “shook tradition, did it (my) way”, and it’s worked out – WHOLE WORLD is a home run.

How much shrapnel can your soul take?” Earl ponders, as he floats with effortless mastery over the beat. The two rapper’s verses are punctuated by Maxo’s prophetic refrain:

“Got the, whole world round me
Whole world round me crumblin’”

 

bright eyes – persona non grata review

It’s hard to know what to expect from a band which hasn’t released music in almost a decade, but Persona Non Grata ticks all the boxes, paying homage to the classic Bright Eyes sound, infused with elements of Oberst’s more sleekly produced solo projects.

“I’m the last of the best”, Oberst boldly declares, and given the strength of his vocal delivery, he sounds sure of it. The next line “I’m your thoughts in the swamp” couldn’t feel more appropriate in these panic-stricken times. Oberst’s lyrics form a collage of personal experience, religious imagery and social commentary. The band follow ramping melodic tension with the welcome release of a stripped-back, Cohensque chorus – a moody unease resolves to blissfulness and serves as a welcome reminder of the escapism found in music and storytelling.

Punctuated by blasts of bagpipes  between verses, the track feels like an anthem rather than a bad cover version of past glory. The beginning has Oberst getting dressed for a date accompanied by Ruminations piano, he “(wears) a kilt like a Celt” and hides his feelings, but the entry of arpeggiated acoustic guitar and drums reintroduce us to Fever and Mirrors-era Bright Eyes with a more mature, confident vocalist. One who you believe when he insists “going to scream when I sing/going to die in the ring”.

When Oberst states “You want to be true to me, once again/and you want me to be true to you, once again” and asks “Oh how can we reconcile?”, his voice shakes with exasperation. The cult following Bright Eyes have garnered could surely suggest a happy compromise at a time when the emotional resonance Bright Eyes provide is more crucial than ever.

7.5/10

frank ocean – cayendo acoustic review

A few days ago the infamously reclusive Frank Ocean provided fans two new 7″ inch singles, Cayendo and Dear April, with accompanying remixes from Sango and Justice respectively.

On the acoustic track Cayendo, an intimate recording inescapably places you in the room with Ocean. The track is so raw that you can catch snippets of metronome. We can even hear what sounds like Frank tapping his leg in preparation for hitting the higher notes, a trait he’s been noted for during his rare live performances.

On Cayendo, the high notes are carefully placed dynamically to touch the soul of the listener in a way that very few vocalists today are capable of. The choice of arrangement consisting of sparse rhythmic guitar leaves the listener unprepared for Ocean’s shift into the higher register for the songs final verse. Ocean’s voice glides before soaring to it’s peak of emotive tenderness. This is realised by the presence of slight cracks in the vocal line, as well as doubled up vocals.

Cayendo reads as a matter of fact rendering of the conflicts we experience in the search for love. In Andalusian-accented Spanish, rumoured to be inspired by his friendship with Rosalia, Ocean tells a brief tale of a lover who has given him the cold shoulder. He concludes that this situation is not something that will break his spirit, but ends the verse with doubt: asking if he truly possesses the strength required, why does he feel as if he is falling? “Si puedo soportar lo que siento, ¿por qué me ‘toy cayendo?”

The battle with his dual emotional state is laid bare in the chorus, where Frank switches to English. “You know too much, I can’t be proud/I still really love you, yes I do” he croons in a manner befitting a whispered conversation.

This  could effort could have slid comfortably into Ocean’s 2016 album Endless, which featured other ballads such as Higgs and Wither. Cayendo, however, is arguably Oceans most revealing track yet. The sense of peace emanating from the dulcet vocals and guitar in conflict with lyrics filled with a combination of self-awareness and self doubt feels like a message in itself. Life is complicated. Love is complicated. We can still choose to dance in the rain, love passionately and appreciate the beauty in individual people, in spite of their shortcomings, and our own.

8/10

STAY INSIDE

we live under lockdown
we can’t crowd the function
all other options
seem completely exhausted

we live under lockdown
masks cover our faces
movies in the evenings
cigarettes at dawn

we live under lockdown
the borders all in order
on the inside of the margin
we occupy these walls

the tins of beans
jump off the shelves
did they grow legs
and leave themselves?

we live under lockdown
we exist, therefore we think
we are under lockdown
we can’t tell the difference