Like waking up with foggy recollections of a dream in which you were making out with the most inappropriate person, and from that moment forward, looking at him or her differently — Son, Ambulance settles into a chasm between reality and hallucination, gets uncomfortable and smiles. The sound is a foggy-river reflection of a blood-red, wine-drunk European pop band, fatigued and content at the cathartic close of a smashing party. Passing the time before sunrise and shagging, the members head downstairs and settle behind piano, stray hi-hats, tom-toms, guitar and bass.
At this point in the dream, you’re transferred from Glasgow red velvet to Omaha cat-scratched upholstery, a continuous line of cornfields, harsh winters, droughts, sinewy snap-crackle-pop falsettos and timing experiments. Quietly, of course, the baby’s asleep upstairs. (You can hear his innocent, tiny breaths hissing through the monitor, adding a sweet layer to the bare refinement.) Luckily, someone pressed “record” and snared the fragile beauty: stark reality played out through cabin-fever delirium and forced relations.
Bright Eyes arrives just in time for your first cup of coffee. I wouldn’t recommend it before that point; you might never make it out of bed. Conor Oberst (vocals, guitar, piano, etc.) offers four more agonizing doses of his nearly famous marred reality, sifted through simultaneous truth and mystery — like biology, like invasive heart surgery, like laughter. When he wrenches the words “Oh my darling, when you smile, it is like a song” from his gut, the music that follows sounds like a body amplified after swallowing mood enhancers. You can hear the serotonin rushing to the brain and the shrieking anticipation of deadened happiness, anything to ease the pain.
Somewhat of an unlikely pairing, the most obvious contrast between the two bands featured on Oh Holy Fools are the vocals: one immediately pleasing, the other, more of an “acquired taste.” The placement: four songs each, alternating, doesn’t lend to any established cohesiveness either, but certain elements provide jagged stitching. Especially the words, each note defined, emitted from that knot of deep-muscle tissue tangled between the small intestines and kidneys. Who else but Oberst could get away with making “place” a five-syllable word? Steady flow is not the point of this recording. In fact, it’s what makes it great, like a mix tape the two bands made for their friends, and you’re lucky enough to have found a copy left between your car’s passenger-side door and seat.
The previous Bright Eyes release, Fevers and Mirrors, was so thematically strung together it could almost be considered a concept album. Oh Holy Fools throws some meaty fish to the scavengers and offers a sizzling appetizer to soon-to-be Son, Ambulance fans for a debut full-length coming out this summer. The two bands have collaborated before. When Son, Ambulance was still called Ambulance, the band contributed a few tracks to Bright Eyes’ Insound tour support CD. And Joe Knapp (Son, Ambulance) sang on the Every Day and Every Night EP. Together, they balance your brain minus the upset stomach. Take two and call me in the morning.
Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music writer. E-mail email@example.com.