After a nine-year absence, Bright Eyes returns with Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, the group’s ninth LP and a shining reminder of a largely dissipated mid-aughts indie folk/emo movement. If the album fails to reach the heights of Bright Eyes’ mid-career peak, it at least toes an impressive line — this album is intentionally crafted to evoke nostalgia but never manages to feel like cheap glory days-chasing. Top to bottom, Down in the Weeds is a record full of classic Bright Eyes lyrics, with a dark emotional resonance informing expressions of not feeling or being good enough. “Dance and Sing” immediately recalls this familiar Bright Eyes mode: “Don’t turn your cheek away / Please, don’t resuscitate / Make an example out of me / Because all I can do is just dance on through / And sing.” Lead single “Persona Non Grata” likewise makes evident this latest album’s temperament from the beginning: “Now you / You wanna be true / To me once again / And you / Want me to be true / To you once again.” It’s an emotional and psychological framework that feels deeply familiar, and if that comes with a sense of retread, it also allows listeners to easily reintegrate to the band’s particular language after such a long time away. But there’s no escaping that this remains the album’s downfall. Bright Eyes in 2020 sounds a lot like Bright Eyes in 2011; the band’s work remains excellent but is undeniably stagnated. Bright Eyes’ reunion had been highly anticipated for a long time, and in many ways the wait was indeed worth it, but while Conor Oberst has demonstrated growth and sonic evolution across his solo projects, it seems high time for the band to do the same.
Published as part of Ledger Line | Q3 2020 Issue – Part 1.