Hot Knives / If The Brakeman Turns My Way
“Well,” said the cabbage-eared NME snapper to your faithful correspondent following Bright Eyes’ sensational, heartstring-snapping Glastonbury performance the other week. “That was a bit shitty and evangelical, wasn’t it? He looked like he was getting ready to perform an exorcism to a crowd of Quakers.”
“Avast, ye scurvy dog!” said we in a fit of pirate-esque pique. “For that man be a genius, and a diss on him be as good as a gob in my face!” It didn’t stop them from slagging him off for the next ten minutes, or us from dissolving a professional friendship, but what do photographers know?
This AA-side is further proof that Conor Oberst is, indeed, the greatest thing to happen to singer-songwriterdom since cheap red wine. The first track, ‘Hot Knives’, is ushered in on semi-distorted waves of acoustic guitar, and tells the tale of a cuckolded spouse who sets about rediscovering life through a “mystic who made medicine from rain”. A bit like one of those Oscar-baiting ‘self-discovery’ movies, only with more necromancy and less Renée Zellweger. Better still, it’s told atop a background of rolling thunder guitars and kitchen-sink drumming that marks it as more Pete Townshend than Paolo Nutini.
The real gem, however, is ‘If The Brakeman Turns My Way’, a sombre meditation on Oberst’s own regrets and past excesses – and one can’t help but presume that his last, somewhat less incredible Glastonbury performance must’ve featured high on that list. Rudimentary piano chords give way to Conor’s crackle-throated description of what we feel like every Sunday morning, when “Your heart’s a hummingbird, and raven thoughts blacken your mind until you’re breathing in reverse”. As anti-drugs songs go, it’s the least condescensding and most gorgeous we’ve ever heard.