Bright Eyes take the more electronic route for their latest and possibly final album, The People’s Key. There’s a hint of their favourable indie-folk sound, but it’s mostly enveloped by a thick soundscape of futuristic sweeps and pulsating synthesizers. The album is full of sci-fi imagery, which continually guides the listener outward to some spacey landscape before bringing them back to that familiar vulnerability that Conor Oberst’s lyrics always exude.
The People’s Key opens with a trippy, spoken commentary by a Texas shaman named Denny Brewer. He shares his random and intriguing theories on evolution, time travel and the universe. Though the album puts out all these heavy philosophical questions about life and existence, it avoids feeling too serious or self-indulgent. This is in part due to songs like “Jejune Stars” and “Triple Spiral,” which are just so damn catchy. These upbeat, electro-pop songs show off a melodic side to Oberst’s voice, which sounds more polished
Beyond the catchy, upbeat stuff, The People’s Key also delivers memorable tracks like the moody and dark “Approximate Sunlight” and the beautifully simplistic “Ladder Song.” The latter’s imagery-laden lyrics “See now a star is born / Looks just like a blood orange / Don’t it just make you want to cry?” remind us of Oberst’s poetic talents. “One for You, One for Me,” a kind of synth-styled protest song, closes off the album with a hopeful image of peace and harmony. Paradoxically, the song ends on, “You and me, you and me / That is an awful lie / It’s I and I,” returning back to the uncertainty of self, existence and spirituality. Oberst doesn’t pretend to have an answer to all the big, humanist ideas that constantly linger over a Bright Eyes album; He’s always been just as lost as we are. But, this time, the album leaves it up to this Brewer fellow to pull things together. He ends the album with a few words of wisdom, declaring something about our need for love and compassion. And so, if this simple, yet entirely meaningful message is what Oberst wants to leave his fans with, then that’s not bad for a formal farewell.