I was asked by the nice people at Team Rock to compile a list of my top 10 songs by any of my favourite artists. I found this to be a difficult task since I couldn’t think of how to narrow it down to one artist. But recently I finished a pretty long tour and was lucky enough to play a very fun show at a venue called the Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska. The Slowdown supplies bands with a great setting, a helpful and friendly staff, and delicious WBC root beer, it also happens to be owned by and located next door to the ever inspiring Saddle Creek records – and it got me thinking about the first time I heard Connor Oberst’s project Bright Eyes.
So here are the best 10 Bright Eyes songs in no particular order, other than how I heard them and think they should be listened to.
A PERFECT SONNET (Every Day and Every Night EP, 1999) This is the first Bright Eyes song I ever heard. Someone put it on a mixtape I had come across and never labelled it and I asked everyone I met for a month if they knew who it was. Finally, I believe it was [No Devotion frontman] Geoff Rickly, who solved the riddle for me at an Eyeball Records house party.
IF WINTER ENDS (Letting Off The Happiness, 1998) Shortly after uncovering the identity of the mystery artist on my mixtape, I found myself somewhere in the middle of Minnesota with my band, Pencey Prep. I stumbled into a record store with $14 in my pocket and bought Letting Off The Happiness on CD. It was really hard for me to part with all the money I had left, because all I knew was that one Bright Eyes song and I hadn’t eaten and was dangerously low on smokes. However, after one listen I was hooked and realised I’d made the right decision. That record got me through that tour and many more to come. It was – and still is – one of my favourite records that I’ve ever purchased. I’ve since purchased it again and again on different formats. I remember sitting in the van with a CD walkman listening to that record over and over. I think at one point in the song someone turns on a hairdryer in lieu of distortion and it convinces the listener that the song hits a second plateau. Fucking genius.
CONTRAST AND COMPARE (Letting Off The Happiness, 1998) Here’s another one of my favourite songs off this record. The commingling of Connor and Neely Jenkins voices are so perfect it hurts. And it hurts perfectly.
THE CALENDAR HUNG ITSELF (Fevers and Mirrors, 2000) A mix-match of feels and genre-specific instrumentation at its finest, this song knocked down many doors for me. And the use of [Pine Ridge Boys’ 1939 song] ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine’? Goddamnit.
THE BIG PICTURE (Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, 2002) This record, and this song especially, marks the shift in Bright Eyes from basement recordings to studio production. The record starts out like the rest of the catalogue; minutes of handheld recordings and sound collage, and then it seamlessly transitions into full-on studio orchestration, preparing the listener for what is to come. Perfection. The funny part is it’s done so well, you might get halfway through the record before you even realise what’s happened.
FALSE ADVERTISING (Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground, 2002) Again, pointing out the legacy of the band’s makeshift previous recordings and people looking for the mistakes inside, the band constructs a collapse in the song just to bring it all back in for a waltz of Walt Disney proportions.
AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERYTHING (I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, 2005) If you can think of a more perfect and tear jerking beginning to a record, you should write a fucking record around it and release it immediately.
FIRST DAY OF MY LIFE (I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, 2005) This is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard matched with the simplest, most perfect video. I really have nothing else to say – I just want to listen to it.
ANOTHER TRAVELIN’ SONG (I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, 2005) ‘I will fight like hell to hide that I am giving up…’ Lines like that are just too good to hear sometimes.
WHEN THE PRESIDENT TALKS TO GOD (single, 2005) A protest song of the highest calibre, which was originally released for free digitally. I like it when people create because they are compelled to do so and release the outcome accordingly.
FrnkIero andthe Cellabration will release Weighted and Give Me Liberty, But Give Me Depth as part of a limited-edition split seven-inch with Lonely The Brave on August 28. The band play Reading and Leeds this month, plus three dates in Northern Ireland and Ireland. For more details, visit the official website.