Bright Eyes reaches for dystopian grandeur on stoic ‘One and Done’

single review of "one and done"
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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Though Bright Eyes’ new music was written and produced before 2020, it feels like every one of the band’s new songs captures the current moment more accurately than the last. In the midst of the pandemic, frontman Conor Oberst and the other members of Bright Eyes continue their streak of predictions with the grandiose “One and Done,” an ambitious statement of dystopian resignation perfectly befitting the times.

Following “Persona Non Grata” and “Forced Convalescence,” the band’s new single marks the third song from Bright Eyes’ upcoming album, which is still officially unannounced. “One and Done” recounts an exhausted conversation at the end of civilization as we know it, featuring orchestral arrangements from composer and bandmate Nate Walcott, as well as bass from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and backing vocals by singer Miwi La Lupa.

The track begins with what sounds like a fuzzed radio transmission, relaying the words, “I was dreaming of you/ You’re in my dreams,” only to be interrupted by an echoing drumbeat that ripples through the atmosphere and gives way to Oberst’s signature raspy vocals. Oberst quickly sets the stage, fleshing out a bleak world on the edge of oblivion as he sings, “Around here we’ve been wondering what tomorrow’s going to sing/ On the final field recording from the loud Anthropocene.”?

The song’s subject matter, combined with Oberst’s monotone delivery, creates a sense of claustrophobia and despair, made slightly bittersweet by soft instrumental flourishes in between verses. Though the dystopia of which Oberst sings is fictional, his observations are eerily similar to the current political climate. It’s hard not to feel the grief of the world in Oberst’s words when he delivers the lines, “This whole town looks empty but we knew it wouldn’t last/ Behind bulletproof windows they’re still wiring the cash/ Whatever they could scrape up, whatever that they had/ There’s a lot of mouths to feed through this famine.”?

The most prominent element of “One and Done” is its immersive arrangement. Swept up in high drama, Oberst’s lyrics are given hefty weight as his sharp voice cuts through the echo chamber of strings and bass. The rhythm section of deathlike marching drums charges to life toward the end of the song, toppling over the rest of the arrangement by the four-minute mark. For such a nihilistic song, “One and Done” sure is beautiful, even if the feelings of grandeur and despair the song captures can feel slightly overbearing at times.?

Ultimately, “One and Done” continues Bright Eyes’ return to relevance in the music scene; their signature brand of melancholy and vulnerability is a breath of fresh air. If “One and Done” proves anything, it’s that the music of the moment doesn’t have to be a distraction from the world’s most prevalent issues; sometimes, it provides the sobering reflection that we all need.

Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].