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The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 2-4-22 – 2-10-22, Bright Eyes “Companion” Recordings

Everything Bright Eyes did from Lifted to Cassadaga was the sound of young, white Americans, that would take the band from 2002 – 2007 (plus 2008 for Conor solo) cemented and maintained his reputation from 2009 – 2022. Conor, Mike Mogis, and Nate Walcott were the sound of indie rock, centered between baroque and Americana. After 2009, the songs aren’t there, and before 2002 the sound of experimentation is both breathless and a youthful mindbender. But 2002 – 2007, it culminated in the best album of the 2000s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (here). And then, he killed it solo before not killing it on the hugely disappointing Outer South. He was never the same after that.

Or before, while early Bright Eyes is emotionally imbalanced it is magically sounding uber folk rock, the arrangements were dangerous and yet based around a teen dreaminess of depression.

So now what? After the lousy 2020 Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was and a terrible live performance last year (here). Well, how many choices do the boys have? Nothing is streaming well, Weeds tanked, and while their concerts still sell well, they haven’t been able to tour. With all those problems, Bright Eyes took a page out of Taylor Swift’s book and has re-recorded at least some of the songs we know in their original state of being, Bright Eyes dubs them not “Taylor’s Version” but the less companionable “Companion Version”: a five song companion EP per each reissue, with featured guests here and there. Moving Bright Eyes from Saddlecreek -an indie label with a bewildered owner, to Dead Ocean, one of the top indies anywhere, begins here (Bright Eyes must own their masters), with a step back of 20 plus years.

The first album is a warehouse of songs from the fifteen to seventeen year old Conor, A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995–1997, songs he’d written while he was still with Captain Venus. On the album, Conor begins developing the sound, drum machines, electronica, though it is mostly folk acoustic, for a set that sounds like his first hangover brought to life, Mike Mogis wouldn’t join till the next one, Nate Wolcott till 2005. The track Bright Eyes have dropped early is “Falling Out of Love At This Volume – Companion Version” which is reborn as a fuzzed out indie rocker and not the worse for it (Grade: B+). The sophomore effort was the deeply depressing, folk Americana Letting Off The Happiness plus other sounds and the arrival of Mike Mogis, to fill out the sound. It’s a tough album though “June On The West Coast” is magical, the first new single is “Contrast And Compare – Companion Version” featuring Waxahatchee and which substitutes the old Americana with much clearer guitar twang and horns (Grade: B+).

The legend began proper with third LP Fever And Mirrors (there is the old “A Night With Saddle Creek” documentary featuring Conor sticking the mirror that came with the album sleeve ready for shipping), an album that positively brims with negativity and Conor sounds paranoid, insulated, incapable of coping and on the brink of the breakdown that would find him a year later in a hospital apologizing to his father for the accidental OD. The Companion has a pointless Phoebe Bridgers adding her voice on “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh” in which Conor discovers his girlfriend is cheating on him.

There is no reason for this companion stuff (accept money) but I will listen through this to find out what they have for Cassadaga to treat us with later.

Contrast And Compare – Companion Version – B+

Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh – Companion – B

Falling Out of Love At This Volume – Companion Version – B+

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