Bright Eyes, "The People's Key"
As corny as it sounds, Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has indeed grown up in the public's eye. So it's hard not to look at his career from that perspective, especially since the band's latest album, "The People's Key," was recorded and released when he was 30. Like many 30-year-olds, Oberst hits his stride and remains distinctly himself on the set, but with a seasoning that only experience can bring. He has hardly been idle since Bright Eyes' 2007 release, "Cassadaga": He's released two solo albums and an EP, as well as an LP with the supergroup Monsters of Folk. Traces of those projects are heard here, along with the electronics of Bright Eyes' 2005 set, "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn," and the group's jauntier early songs. And while there aren't really any big stylistic surprises on "The People's Key" (except for lyrical Rastafarian references and some wacky spoken chatter), Oberst has grown into himself as a songwriter, knowing when to let a note or word hang rather than trying to blurt it all out in an hormonal yelp like he did 10 years ago. Yet for all their diversity and maturity, these songs couldn't have been written by anyone else, and this welcome return shows that the three years since the last Bright Eyes album have been well spent.