The technical 7th solo album by Conor Oberst is just that, solo. This is Conor singing over mostly acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica. Definitely not as depressing as early Bright Eyes work (see Lifted or Fevers and Mirrors), and not as “folky” as some of his Mystic Valley band stuff and Cassadaga-era Bright Eyes, this is Conor alone. And while he certainly has an entire catalog of songs with just himself, we’ve never really seen an entire album composed like this. It almost sounds like it was all recorded in one take, with minor edits and overdubs. After listening to the record a few times I did some quick research and learned it actually was recorded in a 48 hour period.
It may give off the impression of being sad and lonely, but it has the opposite effect on me. The piano, guitar, and harmonica coupled with Oberst’s increasingly confident singing gives off more of a feeling of hope than anything else. It’s reminiscent of various work from the Decemberists, Tom Petty, Jim James/My Morning Jacket and even some more acoustic-leaning Jack White. Sure, maybe he says things like “I just wanna get drunk before noon” (I mean, who can’t identify with that?) And if you think that’s depressing or too relatable, two tracks later he says “Tomorrow is shining like a razor blade, and anything’s possible if you feel the same.” And then classic Oberst shines with his depiction of love; “Well I don’t need God or common law to tell me right from wrong, ’cause when you press me to your chest I know where I belong.” Sometimes it makes me angry how he can say what we’re all feeling so well.
The closing track is “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out,” in which he writes about drinking in the East Village at a pub until they literally get kicked out because it’s closing (not the most unfamiliar theme for him and Saddle Creek labelmate Tim Kasher). After Googling that bar to see if it was real, I realized not only that I’ve been there, but it was only a few blocks from where I lived during my 1-year stint in the East Village. And suddenly I could literally relate to the song, and imagine Oberst and his buddy sitting at the bar, ordering round after round until 3am. This is like imagining Bob Dylan hanging out on MacDougal street and singing about his experiences, except it’s happening now, and brings me back to the I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning days of listening to him sing about New York while I was walking the streets of the city. Ruminations might be more appropriate to listen to while writing at your favorite coffee shop, sitting by the fireplace in a cabin in the Poconos given the time of year, or reading your current favorite book before bed. Yet it still allows you to reflect upon different points in your life, good or bad, and feel something, which he’s been able to do so well for the last 20 years.
- Barbary Coast (Later)
- Gossamer Thin
- Counting Sheep
- Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)
- The Rain Follows the Plow
- A Little Uncanny
- Next of Kin
- You All Loved Him Once
- Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out