Bright Eyes, with the Bruces and M. Ward

Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes came into his own this year with his side project Desaparecidos, a Karl Marx-gone-At the Drive In manifesto of noise. Their album Read Music/Speak Spanish railed in private terms, showing how economic pressure unravels love. Bright Eyes' new album, Lifted, succeeds for similar reasons with "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)," an eight-minute panoramic tour of the hypocrisies and heartbreaks of Oberst's America. Its breezy country-pop pace makes no distinctions between our culture's failures and the failures of Oberst's youth; it's like Woody Guthrie's theme song for a John Sayles movie inspired by David Bowie's "Young Americans."

Lifted is easily the bravest work the young songwriter (best known for tortured obsessions over ex-girlfriends) has made yet. Here's hoping a world that has deemed Dashboard Confessional's mediocre self-flagellation worthy of cult stardom will make room for Bright Eyes' smarter angst.

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Niles Baranowski