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Letting Off the Happiness

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Album Review

The second full-length release from Omaha wunderkind Conor Oberst is a fascinating coming of age for a singer/songwriter whose respectability is chiseled in stone through his musical abilities. This ten-track outing is a lo-fi bonanza of heartfelt tunes that features musical contributions from members of such critically acclaimed groups as Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and Lullaby for the Working Class. Special guests aside, it is Oberst's acoustic guitar and wavering emotional vocals that turn songs like the opening "If Winter Ends" into fragile masterpieces. There are also full-on rock numbers like "The City Has Sex" that help to push the envelope, and others like the Dylan-esque "June on the West Coast" that showcase the one-man band aspect of Bright Eyes. Letting Off the Happiness is a powerful record that manages to stay believable in light of the tortured emotions it tries to convey. It was recorded before Oberst was even out of his teens, but he shows the maturity of a songwriter who has seen it all, and for that he deserves respect and maybe a bit of incredulous inspection. This is a powerful record that has the ability to reach inside and identify with the listener, and while Bright Eyes went on to release some better-sounding and slightly more mature records, this one has the raw power to make people really stand up and notice. ~ Peter J. D'Angelo, Rovi

Customer Reviews

honestly the best bright eyes album

I really can't see how this one could have worse reviews than all the other Bright Eyes albums. Almost every track is brilliant, and he wrote this whole thing when he was, what, 18? It's extraordinarily accomplished. Opener "If Winter Ends" simultaneously opens and closes the book on what an emo song should be. It's 3 minutes of lip-biting pleasure. "Contrast and Compare" and "The Difference in the Shades" are both lovely, slow waltzes with crushing emotional overtones. "Pull My Hair" manages to be clever and upbeat, while album-closer "Teresa and Tomas" invokes Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" beautifully, casting a dreamlike wave of noise over the image of (insert ending of novel here). All in all, it doesn't take itself as seriously as Fevers and Mirrors (which is quite thankful), and he obviously hadn't settled so comfortably into any style at that point (see Story in the Soil) or let his styles diverge to the point where they could no longer be accomodated on the same album (I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn). It's just the beautiful, somewhat lo-fi mish-mosh of a teenage prodigy. Highly recommended.

Very Emotional

I love this album because it stands out from all the other Bright Eyes albums. Although there is some static and you can tell he recorded it at home, this somehow lets me hear music in its rawest form. There are some weird sound effects but you begun to understand that it is the mood: Conor in his basement, almost from the outside looking in. I would recommend this album to most Bright Eyes fans, but if this is your first Bright Eyes listen, you should listen to his more popular albums first.

One of the loves of my life.

No matter what anybody has to say about it, Letting Off the Happiness is undenyably my favorite Bright Eyes album of all time as well as one of my top favorite albums written by anyone. It's hard to describe what these heartfelt, untampered, beautiful pieces of art mean to me. "The Difference in the Shades" is so shockingly gorgeous that I have listened to it and cried. And every single other song brings something different to the album, from the very folk-sy "June On the West Coast" to the harder "Touch" and "The City Has Sex." The soothing "Teresa and Tomas" (I recommend the shortened version, though) is probably one of the best love songs I've ever heard, and the overwhelming apathy of "Contrast and Compare" moves me, as well as the heart-wrenching emotion of "If Winter Ends" and "Padraic My Prince." It is the soundtrack of a fragile human heart coming of age in a turbulent world. If you forget about picking apart the construction of the songs, comparing it to his later works, or sneering at the lack of production and just listen to the meaning of the exquisite lyrics and the overall feeling that Conor Oburst puts into his music, it is hard not to appreciate "Letting Off the Happiness." It's the kind of emotion that creeps up on you in a very powerful way, and makes you really ponder your experiences and relationships (Not just Conor's.) As much as I enjoy most, if not all, of Oburst's work very much, this album will always mean a little more to me. And for the fact that he wrote and recorded it in this teens, I give him and extra bravo, and a very sincere standing ovation.


Formed: February 15, 1980 in Omaha, NE

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although many musicians joined the band's rotating lineup, Bright Eyes was primarily the songwriting vehicle of Conor Oberst, a quivery-voiced Nebraska native who first attracted attention in 1994 — when he was only 14 years old — as the singer and guitarist for Commander Venus. Oberst proved to be a prolific musician, joining multiple bands (including Commander Venus, the Magentas, Park Ave., and Desaparecidos) while also co-founding Saddle Creek, an influential label that helped broadcast...
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