1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 235

Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, by Bright Eyes
Suggested by Tom Ross

In a previous life, I was a semi-decent Magic: The Gathering player.

For those not in the nerdloop, Magic: The Gathering, or MTG, is a popular Collectable Card Game, the forerunner of the Pokemon CCG, with a rich and storied history. There’s a professional tour, where elite players compete for Big Bucks at tournaments around the world.

Fifteen years back, I flirted with Pro Play. I qualified for eight Pro tournaments, including the World Championships, and I was the English National Champion in 2006. I had a MTG day job, editing strategy articles for the game’s biggest independent website.

I was a known quantity when attending UK tournaments, and at times I could utilise my low-level niche “celebrity” to fine effect. I was never happier than when my opponent shuffles to their seat with a resigned stoop, consumed by a deep knowledge that they don’t have the minerals to beat someone as successful as myself.

Weirdly, I get the same vibe from this project. We’re in the Salad Days of the reviewing, and I’ll often stumble upon a comment that says “I know Craig will hate this!” This self-defeated attitude doesn’t fill me with elation, as it did in the face of competition. It makes me sad. Am I so predictable that my tastes are telegraphed? Are you so ashamed of your tastes that they don’t bear up to scrutiny?

Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground is one such album that was in the bin before the cellophane was off. If I’m honest, the opener bolstered this conceit. The Big Picture is low-fi alternative folk rock, like all the tracks here, but recorded in the back of a transit van idling in peak traffic. The singer / guitarist Connor Oberst impersonates Bob Dylan and Jack White, churning and gurning out the folk-rock vocal over such a sparse and underplayed guitar that it’s almost invisible. The effect is so jarring that my wife left her office to check on my welfare, assuming the piteous mewling was from a Zoom call I’d been factored into as my team’s certified Mental Health First Aider.

Bright Eyes seem determined to reveal the cogs in the machine and the man behind the curtain. Songs cut abruptly mid flow. It’s almost Brechtian, this insistence to remind us of the artifice of the artform, with snap-cuts and interludes and knowing nods to the metaphorical camera. It’s also playful, and endearing. As the album progresses, I began to embrace the quirkiness, and the idiosyncrasies, and by the end I found that I rather enjoyed it.

Favourite songs include the ridiculously-titled “You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will.”, with it’s echoing opening salvo that morphs into a fine pop-folk hybrid, the  menacing Don’t Know When But a Day is Gonna Come, and my favourite, the ten-minute bouncer Let’s Not Sh*t Ourselves (to Love and to Be Loved).

My laughable fame and questionable skill at MTG has long since faded, if it ever truly existed at all. I don’t think that Lifted will fade in the same way, as I plan or revisiting it once my schedule becomes less hectic. 7/10.

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