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Bright Eyes: Vinyl Box Set (2003) + Companion EPs (2022)

My affinity for the work of Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst dates back to the early 2000s and my college days. Back to when my obsession with independent music overtook me with a fervor. Albums like Fevers & Mirrors (2000, Saddle Creek) pulled at my heartstrings and made the intensely shy hopeless romantic in me ache to my core. It’s no surprise that I added Vinyl Box Set to my collection as soon as it was released.

A Look at Vinyl Box Set

When it was released in 2003 by Saddle Creek, the music on Vinyl Box Set was still relatively fresh. It drew from the earliest moments of Bright Eyes’ growing repertoire of work. That work was Oberst at his most raw and vulnerable, his shaky voice filled with heartbreak, angst, and frustration.

Vinyl Box Set featured a reissue of five different recordings:

Let’s take a look inside in my latest unboxing video.

Fast Forward Nearly 20 Years

Bright Eyes has just made the jump from Oberst’s long-time label Saddle Creek to a current favorite of mine: Secretly Group’s Dead Oceans. He joins the ranks of artists like Kevin Morby, Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, Japanese Breakfast, and many many more, and I think it’s a fresh and welcome change for the artist.

With that transition came the announcement of a series of reissues of past work (all 9 albums), and my first thought is: Hrmmm…. I feel like I’ve seen this before. (*pulls out Vinyl Box Set and groans…)

But within that announcement was something a bit different, and something I absolutely LOVED seeing, reading, and hearing.

Bright Eyes would rework tracks from those early recordings and re-record them anew. And he would be joined by other artists including Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee, and more!

What I love about this is that it allows the listener to fall in love all over again, but experience the transition and progression of a song far greater than a demo or a live recording could provide.

You see WAY TOO MANY reissues. You see remasters and live albums and demo releases. But it’s rare that you see a reworking of past materials. And frankly, that’s something that should change.

Bright Eyes Reworks Past Favorites

In what he’s dubbing the Companion series, in what Dead Oceans writes:

The album reissue series will be partnered with the release of a Companion EP of five new recordings of songs contained on the original release plus a cover version from an artist they found particularly inspiring at the time of the original recording.

So, that’s six new recordings spanning nine albums: 54 new songs! Quite ambitious, and extremely exciting for longtime fans like myself!

The first three will see the light of day on May 27, and will include the three full lengths originally given to us on Vinyl Box Set.

  • A Collection Of Songs Written And Recorded 1995 – 1997 (Originally released 1997)
  • Letting Off The Happiness (Originally released 1998)
  • Fevers And Mirrors (Originally released 2000)

Now, if you’re like me, you aren’t too keen on adding a new release of something you already have in your collection, so I’m quite happy to see that the companion EPs will be available as separate releases on vinyl.

A First Look At Songs from Bright Eyes Companion EPs

With the announcement, Bright Eyes, Secretly Group, and Dead Oceans has given us a sneak peek of what we can expect from the Companion series of EPs with one recording off each. Let’s take a look!

Falling Out of Love at This Volume

From A Collection Of Songs Written And Recorded 1995 – 1997 comes “Falling Out of Love at This Volume” which is the lone track without a guest artist. Originally, the song was packed with a hefty, distorted guitar and Oberst’s vocals were relatively subdued. Things have changed a bit.

Here’s the original:

And here’s the new version:

The new track emphasizes the distortion even more, giving it quite the punch! The tempo is a hair faster, and the song is quite a bit more poppy. It’s a welcome change for one of the more memorable tracks off that first recording, and more than enough to cause devotees to fall in love again.

Bright Eyes Letting Off The Happiness

Contrast And Compare

From Letting Off the Happiness comes “Contrast And Compare” featuring Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee. The original was quite lo-fi, and the drums overpowered Oberst’s vocals and guitars. The remake, once again, changes it up a bit. Right off the bat, you hear it: the band dropped the lengthy instrumental intro.

Here’s the original:

And here’s the new version:

Here, the vocals and a slide guitar are front-and-center. The song has always had a folksy, country-ish sound to it, and that has been retained, but the rework has a lot more emphasis on instrumentation and melody. Again, a welcome change!

Bright Eyes Fevers Mirrors

Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh

From Fevers & Mirrors comes “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh” featuring Phoebe Bridgers. Immediately, we hear a fresh reworking of the guitar riff on the re-recorded track. Like the other two, plenty has changed. Bridger’s vocals are a welcome change, but the difference between Oberst’s vocals from the original to now is quite shocking when heard back to back.

Here’s the original:

Now for the new version:

What’s Your Take?

So, what’s your take? Are reissues overdone these days? To me it seems like the reissue craze is pushing us toward a Peak Vinyl trend where limited edition reissue pressings on colored vinyl try to capitalize on vinyl’s popularity these days.

Mainstream artists are pushing these just as much as the indie ones.

While in many cases, reissues make sense–long deleted and out of print albums should be reissued merely due to the scarcity of the originals–but for relatively recent albums it just seems ridiculous to churn out 15 colorful variants in low quantities when the black vinyl version is still in print.

The series of Bright Eyes reissues also makes sense, having moved his entire catalog to a new label. It’s doubtful, though, that I’ll add many (if any) to my collection. Except when it comes to the Companion EP Series. I just love that concept, and I hope more artists take heed and follow with fresh takes on old fan favorites!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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