BRIGHT EYES
Fevers and Mirrors
(Saddle Creek)
****

Twenty-year-old Conor Oberst writes like a 20-year-old. He's not mature beyond his years, and that's what makes Fevers and Mirrors so alive. Bright Eyes' album is minutely, specifically, and almost embarrassingly confessional. But what could come off as trite or juvenile is, in Oberst's hands, a Catcher In the Rye for the lo-fi scene.

When you press down on flesh, the blood in that area is pushed away and the skin shows a white depression in its place. For most of us, that depression springs back after the pressure is relieved. But Oberst is permanently imprinted, at least for the purposes of his music. It's easy to put everything down; what's hard is to have faith. Instead of hiding your limitations behind fashionable irony or dismissing the things people hold dear with a comic barb, the brave thing is to find what is important to you and fight for it. And that means becoming vulnerable, leaving your soft, swollen, delicate parts exposed to whatever the world can fathom.

Bright Eyes exposes a romanticism that ignores sugary boy-meets-girl clichés without abandoning optimism, faith, and humanity. Oberst's voice shakes audibly on most of the songs, which are based around a simple acoustic guitar and vocals, despite the presence of instruments like the accordion, glockenspiel, pedal steel, and mandolin. The mood of the songs swings from pathetic to enraged, which should thrill fans of both emo and lo-fi indie rock with the dead-on portrait of the songwriter and his whims.

Fevers and Mirrors--the third Bright Eyes full-length, with considerably better production values than previous releases--is disturbingly intimate, a staring contest with the intense songwriting of a young mind absorbed in the minutiae of the present. It's as if Oberst loads every mellifluous moment with the question, "What is this life?" ERIN FRANZMAN

ELLIOTT SMITH
Figure 8
(DreamWorks)
***

When advance copies of Elliott Smith's new album began circulating among his friends and critics, I kept hearing about how it was the second XO, only better. I'll be the judge of that, I thought. While Figure 8 is certainly a fine album, it's no XO by a long shot--specifically because it lacks a "Waltz No. 2." "Waltz No. 2" was a stunning piece of the saddest kind of sunshine that heartache can offer, the grimly optimistic realization that loving someone you can't have is better than having no one to love at all, set to a melancholic three-step that feels consoling even when you're hugging yourself, dancing alone in your kitchen at 3 a.m. "Everything Reminds Me of Her" comes close, but it's over too soon and just makes me want to get out the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin.

Figure 8 is a beautiful album, no doubt about it. But it's no XO. KATHLEEN WILSON

CATHERINE WHEEL
Wishville
Columbia
***

A while back, in my review of Catherine Wheel's first live show in nearly two years, I said that the new material off the band's forthcoming album sounded a bit like Bush. I had yet to hear the finished disc and now that I have, I apologize. I'm happy to report that Catherine Wheel do not, in any way, sound like Bush. However, that's not to say Wishville sounds like the Catherine Wheel of old. Rather, Wishville has a distinctly harder edge, a pure rock sound that might put off fans of the corroded shoegazery the band is known for--UNLESS they stick it out till track five, where the disc takes a turn to the familiar, beloved territory of Chrome and the breathtaking Adam and Eve, where vocals rise and fall like an intimate story told to a confidante, and the music surges in great swells of wordless emotion. Rob Dickinson's voice is one of rock's most evocative, and on songs like "Idle Life," with its string flourishes, and "Mad Dog," a swaying love song to a wayward child, his vocals hold out a hand to listeners, pulling them along to a place they wouldn't go to alone. "Ballad of a Running Man" roars with Brian Futter's gloriously fuzzed-out guitar, a stark contrast to the clichéd hookiness of album-opener "Sparks Are Gonna Fly."

Wishville may not be Catherine Wheel's best album, but it's still worthy of dedicated attention. And, as usual, it kicks the shit out of most U.K. rock bands by staying true to their British sound rather than attempting to cash in by aping aging Americans. KATHLEEN WILSON


IN STORES 5/23 by Juan-Carlos Rodriguez

Kid Rock, The History of Rock (Top Dog Lava Atlantic) Kid Fake Ass regurgitates tunes from his '93 and '96 albums.

Wilco/Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue Volume 2 (Elektra) Second album of Woody Guthrie lyrics set to new music.

Iron Maiden, Brave New World (Portrait/Columbia) Bruce Dickinson is back for the first time in eight years. Maiden cannot die.

Dwight Yokam, dwightyokamacoustic.net (Reprise) Acoustic songs for the information age.

Olive, Trickle (Maverick) Simply Red's keyboard player starts an electronic dance band and Madonna thinks it's cool. Oh, Madonna.

Various Artists, New Coat of Paint: The Songs of Tom Waits (Manifesto) Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Lydia Lunch, among others, pay homage to a true legend.

Strings, The Black Widow (Epic/SR) Features "Tongue Song," a response to "Thong Song." God help us.

Nashville Pussy, High as Hell (TVT) YEEEEEEEEEHAH!!!!!

Urban Dance Squad, Artanica (Triple X) A deeper shade of comeback.

Soundtrack, Big Momma's House (So So Def/Columbia) Jermaine Dupri lends his invaluable experience to a Martin Lawrence movie soundtrack.

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