The future's bright

As a primer for their forthcoming album (due out early spring 2007) Bright Eyes release this intriguing and surprisingly impressive collection of singles, one-offs, unreleased tracks, cover versions and collaborations. As a general rule, most compilations of this kind are for the die hard fan only. 'Noise Floor' has the potential though to become Bright Eyes' answer to The Smiths 'Hatful Of Hollow' such is the strength of the varied material on display.

The sixteen tracks that make up 'Noise Floor' haven't been thrown together in a haphazard or chronological order, someone has clearly taken time to organise this material into a well structured, logical package. Those purchasing the vinyl version will be particularly buoyed by the news that this particular format will include an additional five bonus tracks. The album kicks off in earnest with 'I Will Be Grateful for This Day' which provides ample evidence that the band had dabbled with electronica prior to last year's impressive 'Digital Ash in a Digital Urn'. There's plenty of folk-y loveliness to bask in for the traditionalist too, from the twinkling 'Trees Get Wheeled Away' to the Dylan aping 'Spent On Rainy Days' and the drowsy solo outing 'Amy In The White Coat'. 'Drunk Kid Catholic' is a magnificent number and one of the undoubted album highlights, it languorously unravels in front of the listener in a loquaciously seductive manner while various supporting musicians repeat the mantra "the drunk kids, the Catholics they're all about the same / they're waiting for something, hoping to be saved". There are surprisingly few clunkers on this collection, the seemingly pointless 'Mirrors and Fevers' (akin to an out-take from 'Lifted...') and the grating lo-fi of the earliest recording here, 1999's 'The Vanishing Act' are the only numbers not worthy of a place in your mp3 collection. 'Blue Angels Air Show' is a rather experimental affair, in sharp contrast to the rest of the album and it's undoubtedly the oddest rarity of the lot, combining a dream pop sensibility with static noise and muffled samples. The two previously unreleased cuts from a muted 7" single with M.Ward circa 2001 will be of particular interest to hardcore Bright Eyes fans. 'Weather Reports' is Oberst at his stripped back best, his cracked vocals treading a ghostly path across a gravel path of gently plucked acoustic guitars. The lovelorn lo-fi of country ballad 'Seashell Tale' is even better and suggests that there are few finer songwriters out there at the moment. The next track 'Bad Blood' emphasises this fact even more so. The album closes with a mixed quartet a marvellously raucous reading of Daniel Johnston's 'Devil Town', the heart on sleeve 'I've Been Eating (for You)', the swaying country of 'Happy Birthday To Me (Feb. 15)' and the stunning six minute acoustic ballad 'Motion Sickness'.

With Sleater Kinney's Janet Weiss and critics' favourite Gillian Welch onboard for the band's next release, spring 2007 simply cannot come soon enough for Bright Eyes fans. This extensive collection of obscure and out of print gems will surely satiate the collective appetite in the interim while offering the curious a perfect introduction to Conor Oberst's blossoming talent.