Bright Eyes are back with their first album in nine years, Down In The Weeds, Where the World Once Was, and in the time since they last released music, they've only gotten more influential. Not only can you hear their direct influence on so many of today's best indie rock singer/songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers (who now frequently collaborates with Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst), Lucy Dacus (who were supposed to tour with Bright Eyes this year), Japanese Breakfast (ditto), Julien Baker, Hop Along, Big Thief, and countless others, but Bright Eyes have impacted some of the biggest artists in pop music, from The 1975 to Lorde to Post Malone. In honor of Bright Eyes' return, we've taken a look at ten artists who expressed their love of Bright Eyes in the form of cover songs. Unsurprisingly, two of their most beloved and quoted songs, "Lua" and "First Day of My Life," are very represented here, but there's some variety beyond that, too. Read on for the list.
Mac Miller - "First Day Of My Life" & "Lua"
The late rapper Mac Miller was always known to dabble in several genres of music outside of hip hop, and one of his big influences was Conor Oberst. Before we tragically lost Mac to a drug overdose at age 26 in 2018, he released released two remarkably faithful covers of two of the most loved songs off I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he called "Lua," which poignantly details addiction and loneliness, his " middle school depression song." "Conor is one of the best songwriters/storytellers of our time," Miller continues. "Throughout the years, that song has continued to speak to me. There are two kinds of covers: one you play because you know and like it and one that you believe every word you’re saying like they are your own. Real hip-hop."
(Related: alt-country singer Rayland Baxter’s Mac Miller tribute EP showed how well some of Mac’s music could work as indie folk songs.)
Lorde - "Ladder Song"
Lorde may one of biggest pop stars in the world, but she's always used her platform as a way of shining a light on great, less popular artists who influence her, like when she took Mitski and Run the Jewels on tour, and when she chose to cover a Bright Eyes song for the soundtrack of the 2014 blockbuster The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (which she also curated part of). Her rendition of The People's Key ballad "Ladder Song" is barely more fleshed out than the Bright Eyes original which was written in response to Conor Oberst's loss of a friend to suicide.
Phoebe Bridgers - "First Day of My Life" & "Bad Blood"
Since her arrival on the scene in 2017, Phoebe has collaborated extensively with Conor, from Conor's appearances on both of Phoebe's solo albums to their joint album and tour as Better Oblivion Community Center. For the Better Oblivion tour, that included performing Bright Eyes songs alongside Conor, which, while thrilling, we're not counting for the purposes of this list. We do want to direct your attention to this gorgeous Deezer Home Session Phoebe recorded from coronavirus lockdown, though. Phoebe really makes the much-beloved track her own, imbuing the vocals with the sort of muted distortion that works to such great effect on her sophomore album Punisher.
Phoebe has also done a few live renditions of another Bright Eyes track, "Bad Blood," from their 2001 split with The Album Leaf. In this April 2018 solo performance she pushes her voice beyond its sometimes hushed volume without losing any of the intimate atmosphere.
Brian Fallon - "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)"
The last song off Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground is one of Bright Eyes' most cathartic ever, mixing the personal and political in a deeply felt epic. The Gaslight Anthem frontman's solo acoustic performance, from Germany in 2012, nails its vulnerability and pathos.
The Killers - "Four Winds"
The Killers' take on Bright Eyes' twangy, rootsy Cassadaga single "Four Winds," recorded as a b-side for their 2008 "Spaceman" single, transforms the song into slick synth-pop. It's a huge leap, but somehow it works, especially when Brandon Flowers allows his voice to slip out of its smooth modulation, yelping "it breaks!"
(The Killers, incidentally, also put out their long awaited new album on 8/21, the same day as Bright Eyes' new one).
Marissa Nadler ft. Black Hole Infinity - "Clairaudients"
Marissa Nadler has been making dark, dreamlike folk music since the mid 2000s, and in 2007, she applied her unique style to a cover of Cassadaga's opening track for Coke Machine Glow's "Fantasy Cover Project" podcast. Her cover is gorgeous in a haunting, ghostly way, with choral harmonies and perfectly placed glockenspiel.
Kevin Devine - "Lua"
"I like playing songs I love, and I love this song, so that works out well for me," Kevin Devine -- who has toured with Bright Eyes and plays in Bad Books with members of Manchester Orchestra -- says to introduce this faithful cover of "Lua." This video is of one of the multiple times he's done it, and the sound of the crowd singing along really adds depth to the otherwise bare bones rendition. Another highlight: when Kevin raises his voice to shout one of the songs best lines, "we might die from medication but we sure killed all the pain."
Beach Slang - "Lua"
They may be more Replacements than Bright Eyes, but Beach Slang have covered "Lua" live a few times, and frontman James Alex (also of Weston) also did an acoustic home recording of the song for his Beach Slang Ruins Everyone He Loves covers compilation.
David Rawlings & Gillian Welch - "Method Acting"
Long-running Americana power couple David Rawlings and Gillian Welch both appeared on Cassadaga, and they've performed with -- and been covered by -- Bright Eyes, too. For this beautiful NPR Tiny Desk performance, they deliver a gorgeous rendition of Lifted track "Method Acting" - slightly slowed down, rich with harmonies and a little extra twang. As a bonus, they follow it with a take on Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer."
beabadoobee - "First Day of my Life"
Rising UK indie artist Beatrice Kristi Laus aka beabadoobee -- whose debut LP is due out on Dirty Hit in October of 2020, and who was supposed to be joining The 1975 and Phoebe Bridgers on tour this year -- delivered this I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning cover as part of La Blogotheque's quarantine Stay Away Show livestream series. She puts a bit more of her own spin on it than other renditions we've heard, making the melody and phrasing her own.
Read more about Bright Eyes' new album.
More: 15 great Bright Eyes covers.