Music

Bright Eyes: Motion Sickness: Live Recordings

This collection of live recordings from Oberst's 2005 tour provides the link between his previously unhinged emotion and his new, more relaxed country persona.


Bright Eyes

Motion Sickness: Live Recordings

Label: Team Love
US Release Date: 2007-11-06
UK Release Date: 2007-11-14
Amazon
iTunes

Motion Sickness: Live Recordings, a documentation of Bright Eyes' 2005 tour in support of his paired albums I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, had a limited release a couple of years ago. But, in concordance with the artist's rise to more mainstream success, it's being reissued to wider circulation just in time for the holidays. At the end of '05, the album sounded remarkably restrained for a singer whose most powerful moments were driven by his reckless surrender to his own wracking emotion. This year it seems a strange step backwards. Oh well, maybe it's a Christmas present for the fan in your family who hasn't heard it yet. Or better a gift for those who thought this year's Cassadaga was a tepid step towards middle-aged irrelevance, a semi-sweet palliation. But as a hook to draw new fans back towards some of Oberst's back catalogue, it's not quite as compelling as the albums from which this material is drawn.

For starters, I'm not one of those people who are disgruntled by Oberst's drift towards the center. I really enjoyed the new, more mellow Cassadaga-era Connor Oberst. His songwriting's mature but still evocative, and his wild emotion now a bit more circumscribed. Oberst's characteristic vibrato may be the quintessential indie whine, and on his newer material it finally becomes fully an asset (no longer even intermittently grating). In this he's aided by a mix that boosts the lower end of his voice and the very high end of his organ/strings accompaniments. In contrast, the Oberst that's on show on Motion Sickness seems oddly tuneless, wallowing around in his mid-range, not having yet reached the realization that he actually sounds better when reaching up to grab a more conventional melody.

It's unfortunate that some of Motion Sickness' more overt political statements seem a bit tired at the end of 2007. In '05, when we first discovered the non-album track "When the President Talks to God", it momentarily delighted us. It seemed that, finally, someone had transcribed the nation's discontent into a vital folk song. Somehow in the live setting, Oberst's tuneless delivery also drains the song of its humor and it becomes a limp, ineffective remnant of past protest. And yeah, so far, not much has changed. But in the next breath the singer-songwriter proves, with a bit more subtlety, that his political point can be made with both grace and power. It's the image of a kid playing guns with a tree branch, in "Landlocked Blues", from I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (which had a previous incarnation on 2003's Saddle Creek 50 as "One Foot in Front of the Other"). The neat payoff ("If you love something, give it away") isn't as impressive as the lock-tight hold on his audience Oberst garners with just a few guitar strums and his strung-out narrative of dislocation.

The truth is, despite the direction Bright Eyes has taken since the early 2005 tour, there's plenty on this album to remind us why Oberst rose to prominence, and why he deserves to stay there. True, you can trace an emerging retreat from the unhinged attack of the first big hit "Lover I Don't Have to Love". Apart from a few songs, like the chaotic and vital "Method Acting", the tone of the recordings collected here is rather low-fi, if certainly anguished. But other interesting threads start to make themselves heard, too. The country edge that hovered around the songs on both 2005 albums comes out stronger in the live setting. The intermittent bloom of the strong backing band with guitars, horns, trumpets, organ and so on, sounds full and natural.

It's not up for debate whether the prolific Nebraskan is a vital part of the discussion of singer-songwriters in the US today. Oberst's material is in turns thrilling, stingingly emotional, or able to capture the soul-drained experience of coming of age in a dicey new millennium. (In contrast, the two covers on the album don't really go anywhere particularly interesting; in particular, Oberst emasculates Feist's gorgeous "Mushaboom" into a reedy imitation). I haven't seen Bright Eyes live this year, so I can't tell if he retains this fragile, cracking persona or if he's evolved a smoother shell that reflects the instrumental trappings of Cassadaga. But it doesn’t matter. If Motion Sickness: Live Recordings fails to completely thrill us, it's not a huge fault. There's plenty to appreciate in these songs, even after their composer's moved on to a slightly different, more circumspect perspective on life.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image