Friday, August 1, 2008

conor oberst by conor oberst

It is a universally acknowledged fact that every good blogger is in want of a buzz band to alternately praise and trash1. I'm sorry, I have to do it. They take away our bloggers licence if we ignore releases like this. I blame genetics. I was a sixteen-year-old girl once. Conor Oberst, the new album by Bri-- er, Conor Oberst is out August 5th on Merge. By now, you've heard it, I've heard it, heck, your grandma's probably rocking out to "I Don't Want to Die" as you read this. So let's add to the noise shall we? Starting with the obvious: it's good. Love him or hate him (and with an artist this polarizing, chances are you fall into one of these groups) Conor Oberst is a talented song writer. There's no denying that. Hopping from his vaguely folk-tinged emo-rock to emo-tinged folk-rock might be just the thing he needs to open up his talents to a whole new audience. Here's hoping the inverse is true, and this album acts as a gateway drug, leading teens into the rich world of folk. Darn it, I wanna see the mall rats outside of Hot Topic rocking out to Blood on the Tracks.

For me the problem with last year's much lauded Cassadaga was that it simply didn't move forward thematically as well as it did musically2. Yes the instrumentation was a subtle and interesting, yes it was a great display of muscianship, but it was boring! Dear Conor, where was the angst? The wail, so credible on Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground was still there. But the "maturation" in musicality made it feel like an overt, ostentatious, obligatory window dressing. Along with the album came news of Oberst's stint in Cassadega - and rehab - which no one can blame him for. But along with drying out, did Oberst leave behind the demons that made him popular to begin with? For a lack of a better question, did he forget how to "fake the funk?"

Conor Oberst answers that question. No. His themes are more universal. The angst is still present, but it's abundantly clear he's letting his fictional characters do the heaving lifting. This is the rough folk rock album M. Ward could have created if he wasn't busy being the "Him" to Zoey's "She." (Not that we're complaining.) Rather than the musical equivalent of a full and complete breakdown, this is the soundtrack to a summer's evening. Oberst and backing band are sitting porch side with a few friends, discussion equal parts "cabbages and kings" and why the sea might actually be boiling hot one day. Ideas come and go in dramatic intense bursts, conversation ebbs and flows, drinks and inside jokes are shared. Putting aside the Bright Eyes moniker for an album seems to have given Oberst permission to stop trying to solve the world's problems...at least for a moment. The result isn't a reinvention of the wheel (Don't believe me? Miss Bright Eyes a bit too much? Check out "Eagle on a Pole"), but like the summer's evening spent with friends, Conor Oberst is a much needed, well deserved break for both listener and artist.

Bright Eyes has clearly grown up, I get it. Maybe not enough to line up at the crack of dawn outside of Amoeba, but I do like it. Who knows, maybe I've grown up, too3.

1. Or maybe that's MNE.
2.Although to be fair, it was responsible for the best lyric of last year: "Had a lenghty discussion about the power of myth, with post modern author who didn't exist."
2. Don't count on it, Mom.


mp3: "Danny Callahan" by Conor Oberst
mp3: "June on the West Coast (live on KCRW)" by Bright Eyes (with M.Ward)

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