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Long Play: Bright Eyes - 'I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning'

As part of our ongoing Long Play series, opbmusic is playing selections from Bright Eyes’ album ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ all day throughout the broadcast on Saturday, March 25th.

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning by Bright Eyes

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes released I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, in January of 2005 on Saddle Creek Records. The album came as a seemingly intentional counterpunch to the Omaha, Nebraska three piece’s breakthrough 2002 release, Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Whereas Lifted was very electronic, I’m Wide Awake took on a decidedly acoustic and alt country-folk sound, enhanced by the prominent addition of Emmylou Harris’s graceful, world-weary accompanying vocals on three of the album’s tracks. The group also added My Morning Jacket’s Jim James backing vocals to the opening track and drew on a slew of primarily Omaha-based artists to craft one of their most well-loved albums, full of undeniable Bright Eyes classics such as “Lua” and “First Day Of My Life”.  

I’m Wide Awake features frontman Conor Oberst’s signature rough, wobbly vocals up front, accompanied by rugged acoustic guitar [Watch our recent session with Oberst here]. It’s an intense performance. At times, you can’t tell if he’s yelling or about to cry. Bandmates Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott add tinkling mandolin, mellow slide guitar, and rollicking piano work to smooth out the rough edges and help Oberst reach a patient intimacy and honesty that makes songs seem personal and raw, but palatable.

Lyrically, the album contrasts themes of political unrest and societal disconnection with Oberst’s own introspective struggles with loneliness and feeling lost. Partly written during the run-up to the Iraq War, the anti-war protest movement of the early 2000s is also a recurring theme. But despite Oberst’s clear struggle with isolation (both political and personal) and his embrace of escapism and ambiguity, the record has a decidedly optimistic tone. Oberst isn’t wallowing in sadness or death, he’s simply accepting it as something cyclical that can bring greater freedom and understanding.

At the time, Pitchfork wrote:

I’m Wide Awake weaves the personal and the political more fluidly than most singers even care to try, and the consummate tunefulness just strengthens those moments where he pinches a nerve— the songs that still give me chills every time…

Even though I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is now twelve years old, it’s no less poignant, emotional, or relevant. Especially now, amidst a tumultuous political and societal climate. Tune in to opbmusic on Saturday, March 25th to hear this record played throughout the broadcast.

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