- In early 2005, young indie icon Conor Oberst (AKA Bright Eyes) unveiled two full-length albums--I'M WIDE AWAKE, IT'S MORNING and DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN. Whereas the latter proved to be a departure into electronic music, the former sticks to Oberst's established sound, which combines the urgency and heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment of emo-rock with twangy, down-home feel of alt-country and folk music.
- I'M WIDE AWAKE begins with Oberst telling a story that morphs into "At the Bottom of Everything," a jangly, upbeat tune featuring My Morning Jacket's Jim James on backing vocals. Throughout the record, Oberst reaches nearly hysterical peaks, seemingly overcome with emotion as his wavering voice, which often recalls Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, veers almost, but not quite, out of control. Oberst's eccentric vocal delivery makes his pairings here with ever-graceful harmony singer Emmylou Harris intriguing, particularly on the rambling shuffle of "Another Travellin' Song." Although Oberst manages to work up plenty of energy on some tracks, the quieter tunes, including the dreamy New York City narrative "Lua," are the album's highlights, revealing hushed melodies that showcase his maturing songcraft.
Rolling Stone (No. 966, pp.57-8) - 4 stars out of 5 - "[A] masterpiece of country-flavored heartland angst, plowing the musical ground between THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN and the Cure's SEVENTEEN SECONDS..."
Spin (p.62) - Ranked #21 in Spin's "40 Best Albums Of 2005" - "[A]n intimate folk-rock CD by a principled singer/songwriter who's working hard to keep things indie..."
Spin (pp.85-6) - "[A]n often-great set of songs about loneliness - romantic, professional, even civic." - Grade: A-
Entertainment Weekly (No. 804/805, pp.130-1) - "[O]berst retains his eye for evocative detail....the ambient alt-country arrangements lend shape to his pileup of words and music..." - Grade: B
Uncut (pp.72-3) - 4 stars out of 5 - "[B]uilt on a classic country template, and frequently dropping to an intimate hush, where Oberst's voice, and the harmonies of guest Emmylou Harris, wait to lure you in..."
Alternative Press (p.81) - 5 stars out of 5 - "A country record inspired by the city, I'M WIDE AWAKE is riddled with soft folk fantasies and acoustic ramblings..."
Magnet (p.53) - Ranked #6 in Magnet's "The 20 Best Albums Of 2005" - "Oberst's most mature, focused and consistently impressive album."
Magnet (p.88) - "[F]ull of inventive, successful ideas....By a country, city or suburban mile, WIDE AWAKE is Bright Eyes' finest hour."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.60) - Ranked #13 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2005" - "[A]n album of witty, intense ballads, with an electro-pop chaser..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.102) - 4 stars out of 5 - "[M]agic....Alternately thundering and hushed, exuding the warmth of human breadth, its rhapsodies present a portrait of an artist at an early height of his powers..."