Bright Eyes: Letting Off The Happiness, a Companion EP

This is a companion EP to American band Bright Eyes’ Letting Off The Happiness, and is part of a reissue campaign of their back catalogue. The companion EP features newly recorded tracks.

Letting Off The Happiness (original album), facts and stats: Letting Off The Happiness was the second album by Bright Eyes, released by Saddle Creek Records in 1998. It originally came out on CD and limited edition vinyl of 300 hand-numbered copies in screen-printed sleeves; as standard was a hidden track following “Tereza And Tomas” and a period of guitar drone noise, namely “Contrast And Compare (alternate version)”. The 1999 version issued by Japanese label Bad News Records has a further track, “Empty Canyon/Empty Canteen”. Letting Off The Happiness was re-issued in 2012.

The NME commented in relation to the album title that “Letting Off The Happiness is as blackly ironic as they get. By track two, old Bright Eyes himself, Conor Oberst, has got drunk, buried his brother, considered suicide and ruminated on a dreamless coma”. They go on to say that “there’s a buzz about the tunes, and a wit, weary purity and self-awareness to Oberst’s words that saves this from a laughably dark insularity. Bright Eyes, it turns out, burn like wild fire”.

Companion EP: there are four new recordings of tracks from Letting Off The Happiness, plus a track from Bright Eyes’  2000 EP Don’t Be Frightened of Turning the Page (also on Oh Holy Fools: The Music of Son, Ambulance & Bright Eyes, a 2001 split EP by Son, Ambulance and Bright Eyes) and an Elliott Smith cover. Multi-instrumentalists Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott join leader Conor Oberst and drummer Kevin Donahue as the core musicians for these tracks, with some special guests: Waxahatchee appears on two tracks, “The City Has Sex” and “Contrast and Compare”, M Ward on “Kathy With A K’s Song”, Becky Stark on “June on the West Coast” and Phoebe Bridgers on the cover of “St. Ides Heaven”.

The companion versions provide some interesting variations to the originals. ”The Difference in the Shades”, with additional vocals by Miwi La Lupa, is more piano led and “June on the West Coast” is taken from the original acoustic strum to a full band rendition in the style of Wilco’s more country-folk moments. Waxahatchee’s vocal replaces Neely Jenkins’ on “Contrast and Compare”, and is a more forthright interpretation than on Letting Off The Happiness. “The City Has Sex” is as equally frenetic as the original, but the additional voice on the companion version seems over-powering.

Mike Mogis adds some impressive pedal steel on “Contrast and Compare” and “Kathy With A K’s Song”, the latter ending with an experimental, echo vocal. Elliot Smith’s “St. Ides Heaven” (from his self-titled 1995 album) is converted from the “drunk every night” acoustic original to a “high on amphetamines” electric cover. It sounds like fun, but we cannot recommend extreme behaviour.

Note: Companion EP available on gold vinyl and download.

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Label: Dead Oceans
Release Date: 27 MAY 2022