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It’s been nearly 10 years since Bright Eyes released an album, and somehow everything and nothing has changed. Gone, this time for good — as Conor Oberst once declared — is the “rootsy Americana bullshit” that colored career-defining records like I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Sonically, the reunited trio’s newest work has one foot in the stylized hyper-production of their last album, The People’s Key, and another in the Gothic, orchestral sweep of Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Sure, some of the old emblems remain: the cryptic overture, the half-sentimental, half-ominous soundbites, Oberst’s brooding and beautiful lyrical histrionics. And yet, the album isn’t an outright gloomy one.
In the past decade, the members of Bright Eyes have grown up. Oberst turned 40, lost a brother, married and separated, and recorded a number of wide-ranging side projects in between. Multi-instrumentalists Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis both started families. For all its grim attention to personal and environmental apocalypses, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was is somehow sanguine — if bittersweet — in both melody and meaning.