For every fan of Conor Oberst, there has been a moment when this precocious voice of troubled youth has come of age; to my mind, this really is the one. What sets The People’s Key apart from Oberst’s prodigious output over the past 15 years isn’t its lyrical density or conceptual assurance, but the taut, bright, propulsive vitality of its musicianship.
This is practically a pop album – albeit a pop album about time, the universe, life as a hallucination and spiritual redemption. ‘Jejune Stars’ rattles off an exuberant chorus that lodges immovably in the mind, and elates, despite articulating an existential crisis precipitated by the weather.
The album is abundant in such choruses, bound together by a chugging, playful rhythm (‘Haile Selassie’), stabbed by authoritative guitars (‘Shell Games’), or embedded in coruscating electronic effects (‘Triple Spiral’) that, in earlier albums, would have disintegrated into chaos. It’s as if Bright Eyes have finally exited their bedroom and entered a brave new musical world. — Guardian