Saturday, January 15, 2011
Conor Oberst- S/T
That’s a hard word for many individuals to swallow and live up to, especially in the music industry. Recently I was hanging out with some writers and musicians when the topic of music came up in our conversation. During this time, we argued back and forth over our favorite music of the year for several hours. It was intense, but very entertaining to say the least. Luckily one good topic came up- Conor Oberst’s music.
For those not familiar with Conor Oberst, you are truly missing out. Over the past 15 years, Oberst has formed Bright Eyes, worked on side projects like the supergroup Monsters of Folk and has been a solo artist. Being compared to an icon and living legend like Bob Dylan is a hard thing to endure over one’s musical career, but somehow he has always embraced the moniker.
Connor Oberst is my generation’s “Dylan” and continues to make magnificent music. In February, Bright Eyes will be releasing their new album, “The People’s Key” and I decided to revisit one of my favorite solo albums of the past five years. I first started listening to Bright Eyes at the behest of one of my best friends. I was immediately intrigued by the lead singer and lyrics. From that moment on I have been an admirer of Conor Oberst’s work. Whether it’s Bright Eyes, solo projects, The Mystic Valley Band, Monsters of Folk, or guest collaborations, Conor Oberst has remained at the top of his game.
Recently I started listening to Oberst’s self-titled “debut” album, which came out after over a decade in the music business. It’s always interesting when a well-established artist releases an eponymous album because it usually leaves a bitter taste for certain fans. To be perfectly honest, it really doesn’t matter as long as the content is good. I have not been disappointed once by Oberst. Prior to its release, Conor was named the top “Songwriter of 2008” by Rolling Stone. The album was produced and recorded in Tepoztlán, Mexico, with his new band dubbed the Mystic Valley Band. This soulful songwriter solidified his career with a very grownup album.
The album opens up with the infectious “Cape Canaveral” that is a throwback to late 1960s folk music. The gentle acoustic guitar strumming accompanied by Oberst’s sweet, soft voice catapults this song into tranquility. From the moment the song starts “Oh oh oh brother totem pole/ I saw your legends lined up/ And I never felt more natural/ A Part/ I just came apart,” Oberst has you hooked.
Camping never sounded so good with “Sausalito” and we finally hear the Mystic Valley Band in the background. "Get-Well-Cards" feels and sounds like a Dylan song from the Blonde On Blonde-era. With perfect pacing and pitch, the melody pulls you in while the lyrics keep you entertained for 3 ½ minutes. Easily, one of the best songs on the album. The beautiful, bold political “Lenders in the Temple” has a nice subtle edge that is comforting in a disturbing way. I loved all the references to The Bible, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, and the government within the song. A well-composed song from an exceptional entertainer.
Although “Danny Callahan” is a good song, it seems out of place. Maybe it’s because it feels like a Neil Young song circa early 1970s or the fact it could be a bar band song instead of a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen-like song. Still, it’s enjoyable. Luckily, it’s followed up by “I Don’t Want to Die (In the Hospital).” The song is a rockabilly/country rock song that feels like the lovechild of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Hank Williams. You can’t help, but sing along with this bluesy badass rockabilly song. It’s cheesy at times, yet infectious and irresistible.
As the album progresses, “Eagle On A Pole” illustrates Oberst’s maturity and shows he has grownup. If this is an inkling of what is to come I can hardly wait. Oberst gets better with age and seems destined for bigger, brighter things. My favorite song is “NYC- Gone, Gone,” which is a foot stomping, blood pumping beat that lasts over a minute. Filled with electric guitars and diligent drums, Oberst embraces his “On the Road” persona that makes you want to chant this song all day long.
Oberst is the combination of classic country rock, rockabilly, folk and great rock music. This is obvious in the Tom Petty-esque “Moab,” which is a wonderful and memorable song. “Moab” is arguably the best song on the entire album. Critics of Oberst will argue that he is trying too hard to be Dylan, Springsteen and other influential artists, but I wholeheartedly disagree. He is merely showing his influences and expressing his heart. Sure there are also echoes of Tom Waits and Paul Simon as well, but listeners will observe Oberst is more focused.
Skip the 49 second “Valle Místico (Ruben’s Song)" and instead listen to “Souled Out!!!” “Souled Out!!!” is a beautiful ballad fused with power pop and folk. The album closes with “Milk Thistle,” a good bookend to finish the album. Although an acoustic song about the grim realities of dying, “Milk Thistle” fits flawlessly with the overall theme of exploring our emotions. Yearning for more morbid music is absurd, but if it’s this provocative and poignant, please sign me up. Conor Oberst is an amazing artist worth discovering if you appreciate good music.
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