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Bright Eyes

Everyone has no doubt heard the schtick about putting a million monkeys in front of typewriters and sooner or later one of them will randomly type Hamlet. Sometimes the stars line up just right and you end up with something that sounds like it's descended from other things but it turns out it can't be, so you're stuck wondering how it got there.

Bright Eyes is the pen name of one Conor Oberst who stepped onto the music scene at the delicate age of 14 as part of the band Commander Venus. The band soon created its own record label (Saddle Creek Records) and released its first record -- not bad considering they were still in high school. A follow-up record came out on Thick Recordings as the kids finished up high school and then the band split up.

Two years later the 18-year-old Oberst launched Bright Eyes. The music was puzzling, expressive, and reminiscent of what it was like to be 18 and pissed off and maybe a little hurt. Also, like those typing monkeys, it seemed like an impossible culmination of sounds and styles that had come before.

Oberst sounds like something you've heard before, which isn't to say he's not unique; indeed, it would be hard to suggest otherwise. But listening to him, you hear hints of music that you've heard before. A little Will Oldham in the wavering of that note, a bit of The Beatles in his annunciation. A bit of Spoon-like crooning (especially in his new side project Desaparecidos).

Oberst is a remarkable musician and his songs, which are very intimate and personal, are well-crafted and interesting. His fragile yet powerful voice is the most defining element of his albums. His tales of angst deal with issues like trust and relationships as well as larger social themes, but all seem to be firmly grounded in Oberst's youthful perspective.

You can hear the music mature throughout his musical career, making it easy to wonder where this vibrant soul will be in two more years, five more years. His music has been compared to Bob Dylan, but among their countless differences, Dylan was more poetic while Oberst is more straightforward with what's bothering him. Perhaps the most telling lines of all can be found on Lifted's "Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come":

And now I don't know why, but I still try to smile when they talk at me like I'm just a child. Well, I'm not a child. No, I am much younger than that.