Bright Eyes cleans creative wardrobe with new compilation Noise Floor

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Bright Eyes presents rarities and B-sides on "Noise Floor."

Christopher Bengtsson

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After coming close to becoming a parody of himself with an overload of teen angst in the late 90s, Connor Oberst aka Bright Eyes, has gotten himself together.

In 2005 he put out two albums on the same day, “Digital ash in a digital urn” and “I’m wide awake, it’s morning.” Both records reached critical acclaim, and thankfully, the tear shedding lyrics weren’t quite as painful as before.

Now Oberst is back, re-releasing some of his B-sides and rarities written between 1998 to 2005.

As always with Oberst, all of his songs are at least interesting. He has a baroque approach to his music, his style ranging from indie pop to downright country songs. Bright Eyes is an artist who won’t easily be labeled.

“Devil Town” is one of the more direct songs. Originally a Daniel Johnston song and produced by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it has a wonderful pop melody to it and fun if yet a bit macabre lyrics.

“Weather Reports” and “Seashell Tale” are two songs that were recorded to fit on a split seven-inch together with M. Ward, but due to problems with the record label the record never saw daylight. Fortunately, they do appear on the compilation, and are some of the more straight country ballads on the CD.

Oberst collaborates with San Diego’s own Jimmy LaValle of the Album Leaf on “Bad Blood.” LaValle stands for all of the music and Oberst laid down the singing. It is a lo-fi ballad at its best, not going to far but staying unpolished enough to still be interesting.

It is entertaining to find “Happy birthday to me (Feb 15th)” on the record. Mainstays of Bright Eyes will recognize it is a song that first appeared on Oberst’s first release, “A collection of songs written and recorded 1995-1997” under the name “Feb. 15th.” The song was re-recorded as a European single back in 2001, and now it resurfaces again on “Noise Floor,” and it is still holds up.

Trails of Bright Eyes former scream-fests of angst can be heard in “Spent on rainy days,” the low-water mark of the CD.

Some of the electronic pop songs which Bright Eyes cut his teeth on in preparation for “Digital ash in a digital urn” appear on the compilation in the form of “I will be grateful for this day,” and “Blue angels air show.” They add variance to the arrangement, which is nice.

Anthologies can sometimes feel cluttered and confused when the listener is bombarded with obscurities and B-sides, but the electronic compositions help elevate this issue.

Sometimes compilations can come off as lazy because they are unthoughtfully put together or lack relevance. Luckily this is not the case with “Noise Floor.”

It stands shows all the hard work Oberst put down in order for “I’m wide awake, it’s morning” (the strongest of his two 2005 albums) to be the excellent record that it is.

Bright Eyes is a productive artist working a lot of smaller releases with EP’s and singles, so “Noise Floor” is a good way to pick up stray songs that might be difficult to get a hold of.

“Noise Floor” also stands as proof that the Omaha based Saddle Creek isn’t a label that has deteriorated entirely into a bunch of whiney liberal Midwestern kids with guitars. At least Bright Eyes is still standing proud together with his longtime right hand man Mike Mogis (who appears on six of the tracks on “Noise Floor”).

“Noise Floor” was released on Oct. 24 by Saddle Creek. According to www.saddlecreek.com, a new album is in the making, set for the spring of 2007.

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