Music Review: Conor Oberst

by Vincent Lee

A year after the release of Cassadaga, Conor Oberst decided to release an album apart from the musical project he calls Bright Eyes. Self-titled and labeled as a “solo album,” one could easily mistake this as another Bright Eyes record (because Oberst has sometimes billed his solo appearances with the title Bright Eyes). Oberst does not venture into any new or out of the ordinary territory on the new release, like on Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. However, the eponymous release is hardly a rehash of previous albums. Oberst seems refreshed in many ways as he provides an extremely upbeat album with plenty of energy.

Oberst's self-titled album is great in many respects. Oberst's title as the king of emo is clearly disproven on this album. The majority of the album finds him in an cheerful mood with spirit reminiscent of the final track on Lifted, “Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)." Additionally, nearly every song has its own extremely catchy chorus. Songs such as “I Don't Want to Die (In the Hopsital)” are prime examples of this. That said, the album is not repetitive in any way. Oberst found a way to give this album a consistent and flowing sound, without being repetitive and dull.

With Bright Eyes, Oberst consistently made strong albums by never doing the same thing twice. Every album had its own unique character. Yet, within these albums would always be a few songs that broke the mold and really set themselves apart. Although this solo album is strong, it does not feature any of these powerhouse songs. In that sense the album is somewhat lacking. There is no “Landlocked Blues” or “A Song to Pass the Time” that truly stands out. There are a few such as “Danny Callahan” that are stronger than the rest, but nothing that emerges on another level.

Through and through, Oberst's solo effort is a very good album. As Oberst is known for strong live performances, the fun and upbeat nature of this album should really fuel many more outstanding shows. For the average Bright Eyes fan who thinks “Lover I Don't Have to Love” or “Bowl of Oranges” is as good as it gets, this album might not be extremely thrilling. The obsessive fans will most likely enjoy it as a solid album. Indie folk fans will probably be the group that gets the most pleasure out of this release. In the end, most will end up being satisfied with the record but not blown away.

(Editor's Note: This new self-titled release is the fourth solo record by Oberst, and the first since Soundtrack to My Movie, released in 1995. Oberst recorded the new record with the Mystic Valley Band, which includes keyboardist Nate Walcott, who is also part of the current line-up in Bright Eyes.)

(The photo of Conor Oberst performing at the Spaziale Festival in 2007 is by Charlie Cravero of Turino, Italy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. The Mystic Valley Band will make a live appearance at the record store Grimey's in Nashville on Friday, Aug. 8. To see Conor Oberst performing "Sausalito" from his new album at a live performance in Vancouver, Canada from last month, please check below.)

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