Conor Oberst’s ninth disc as Bright Eyes (and not his first collection of unpolished studio-album rejects), Noise Floor (Rarities 1998ï¿½2005) fits ably into his accomplished catalog. This compilation — an arduously chosen panorama of the better, lesser-known musical moments in his career — maintains the same mood of the rest of his work: the dull but always present political edge; the ardent, simplistic lyrics, Oberst’s breakable vocals delivering them resolutely. Whether he’s being experimental or covering a song he didn’t pen, the inherent melancholy is always there.
So, to significantly enjoy an entire compilation of Bright Eyes “rarities,” you probably already need to be an admirer — either of him or of his style in general. Me, I’ve never exactly been that, but there are tracks on here that I would pluck out and listen to without reservation. The pretty echo of “Bad Blood” may be the finest example of Oberst’s unflinching ability to create palpable atmosphere, here using the minimal swill of a plinking guitar and his reverb-enhanced voice. Oberst closes the album with a cough-turned-laugh, saying “take a chance” after churning out the nearly soaring ballad “Motion Sickness.” (The vinyl issue ends with “It’s Cool, We Can Still Be Friends.”) It’s ostensibly an unabashed way of summing up the preceding material.
Though Oberst’s “chances” may seem less than ambitious (considering how little his music varies from its niche, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn included), all things considered, the closing sentiment is commendable even still. Whether he meant it personally or in a career-move way, that brief moment makes the entire duration of the disc into something new, something legitimately moving.
Noise Floor may be more an appetite-whetting device to remind fans of why they dig Oberst, just in time for his next album. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to experience the evolution of a self-made, widely respected indie darling. This album works adequately, maybe exclusively, within the folds of Bright Eyes’ self-contained space, and that’s really not such a bad thing.