V/A - Oh Holy Fools: The Music of Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes
When I came back from Moscow last month, there was only one piece of mail I was looking forward
to finding -- that which contained the new Bright Eyes split CD. Sure, if I was more attentive
I would've looked for a certain bank statement that told me I was about 120 bucks overdrawn and
had been taken to collection, but with news from Saddle Creek that this disc would be waiting
for me when I came home, it offered some light at the end of the dark tunnel that is returning
to America, a light so bright that it blinded me from all else. Due to snow in Chicago, I
couldn't make it home the day I'd planned to, so after spending the night in a hostel near Times
Square in New York I finally made it home. After the perfunctory familial greetings, I popped
the question to my mom -- where was my mail? She pointed me to the stack, and I tore through it,
looking for something with Saddle Creek's return address, but failing to find it. Just as I was
about to give up and end up with a sour taste for Saddle Creek in my mouth, I asked my mom if I
had any other mail. "Oh yeah, there's this." This, of course, being the one thing that kept me
interested throughout my entire two-day travel ordeal.
So of course I played the CD almost immediately. Greeting me was not Conor Oberst's pained twang
of a voice, but instead the soft and playful voice of Joe Knapp, vocalist of Son, Ambulance, the
band with which Bright Eyes was splitting the CD. Son, Ambulance's first song is a well-orchestrated
indie rock song with piano, very similar to Ben Folds Five. After Knapp finishes telling his first
story, Bright Eyes gets a chance to play a song. This trade-off fashion continues for the rest of
Bright Eyes picks up where last year's "Fevers and Mirrors" left off -- somewhat folky, somewhat
orchestrated, but with Oberst sounding less urgent than he ever has before. Some have written off
Bright Eyes' vocals as being whiny and annoying, but that very characteristic is what capture my
attention in the first place. When I first heard "A Perfect Sonnet," there was a certain sense of
urgency to the song -- Oberst almost sounded as if he knew he had a limited time to spit out the
words, and was trying to pack as many in as possible before and unfavorable end was reached. Half
of Bright Eyes' songs on this EP seem to forget this sense of urgency, while the other half seem
to tone it down. Maybe it's part of growing up, maybe it's part of increasing popularity, maybe
it's a better recording, but whatever it is, it just doesn't work as well as older material.
The rest of Son, Ambulance's songs don't really sound like they owe much to Ben Folds, but they
do maintain a well-orchestrated indie rock sensibility throughout. Knapp possesses a fine,
sensitive voice that could very well meet with the approval of the indie rock community after
hearing this release.
"Oh Holy Fools" is billed as an EP, but clocking in at 40 minutes, it is one of the longest EPs I
own -- only two songs are under four minutes in length. The artwork is fantastic, and would look
great on a 12" sleeve, I am sure. Had this EP been a split 7", culling the best song or two by
each band, I am sure I would wholeheartedly recommend it. However, this EP is a slight
disappointment, leaving me to wonder if the listener is ultimately the fool reference in the title.
... new reviews ... archive ...