Rhythm & Views

Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes

Nick Hornby pointed out in a recent review of Radiohead's Kid A that the only people who can sit and listen to a record all day are teenagers; the rest of us just don't have time anymore. Or the music's just not good enough anymore, because as you get older, your standards tend to get higher. And you begin to forget what it feels like to let the music drag out depression or angst or anger or whatever, amplify it and then dissipate it. This is the kind of thing you don't want to forget, because it comes in handy more often than not. If you forget it, that means you're old, and as Paul Simon points out, "God is old."

But if you should ever feel like you're forgetting, there is a remedy: Oh Holy Fools: The Music of Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes. Son, Ambulance sounds like a naked Belle and Sebastian; Joe Knapp, the singer/songwriter, sounds exactly Stuart David, but the music lacks all the layered orchestration. Which makes perfect, quiet interludes between four new songs from Conor Oberst, the very not-old singer/songwriter behind Bright Eyes. And if there's anything out there that forces you to confront the demons and saints of the past, it's Bright Eyes. Only Oberst can sing a song about suicide and make it ring with cathartic Aristotelian tragedy.

In "No Lies, Just Love," the chorus is layered over a drum machine beat that makes it sound like a catchy pop song, but it's more than that--it takes you back. I mean takes you back, both in the time machine sense and the oh-I'm-so-surprised-that-this-song-is-so-amazing sense--suddenly you're 17 again and you feel like "the ground is not mine to walk upon," as Oberst puts it. But this time, you're listening not because it's depressing (it's not), but because it rings with Truth with a capital T.

Oberst's songs are like diary entries, or late-night telephone confessionals, with lyrics embedded in a classic sense of narrative and executed in a way that makes them glimmer with youth and honesty. Lyrics like "Love is real. It is not just in long distance commercials."

Oberst's music is about recovering from adolescence, which for some is a lifelong endeavor. But it doesn't have to be. With the help of Bright Eyes, it can feel a little like this: "Now you can feel all the knots in your stomach start to untie / And suddenly it's not so hard to say you're all right."