CD Review of Conor Oberst by Conor Oberst
Recommended if you like
Josh Ritter, Luke Doucet, Jason Collett
Label
Merge
Conor Oberst:
Conor Oberst

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

A
fter operating under the nom de plume of Bright Eyes for the past dozen years or so – not to mention his various sidebars and momentary excursions -- the prospect of a solo venture by Conor Oberst might seems somewhat superfluous. Not that this self-titled set qualifies as Oberst’s first solo album; he actually released some obscure home-grown projects in the early '90s which were a prequel to the Bright Eyes branding that would come soon after. However, it’s easy to dismiss those tentative efforts; he was barely out of his teens at the time and for all the talk of him being a supposed wunderkind, his real accomplishments were still several years away. With all his meandering, Bright Eyes would be the operative mode with which he’d soon become synonymous.

Although it would be a misnomer to say that Bright Eyes has become a pop sensation, in recent years Oberst has moved towards the mainstream. Bright Eyes’ last album, Cassadaga, did prove to be their most accessible set to date. It proved a well-conceived follow-up to the band’s breakthrough, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, released simultaneously with Digital Ash in a Digital Urn in 2005, the first year where the group’s critical kudos reached a fevered pitch. It’s fitting then that at this juncture, Oberst’s aware there may be worth in holding to expectations while setting himself up in the spotlight. After all the meandering that he undertook in tandem with other amalgams early on – bands like Commander Venus, Park Ave., Magenta, Desaparecidos and an early incarnation of the Faint -- it’s little wonder he’d want to capitalize on all the attention and elevate himself on the marquee.

Conor Oberst

Not surprisingly then, this self-titled set isn't so much a reinvention as a means of restating the obvious -- that when it comes to insurgent attitude and lo-fi intention, Oberst defies the slacker sensibilities of his 20-something peers. In truth, he’s not really going it alone; he’s aided and abetted by a band of fellow travelers dubbed the Mystic Valley Band. If anything, he’s purveying a more defined musical view. It’s manifest in a fairly consistent series of soundscapes, one that begins with the low rumble and acoustic musings of opening track "Cape Canaveral," and stretches into an amiable ramble that embraces the gentle "Sausalito," "Danny Callahan" and "Moab." It would be a stretch to call this Americana, but the album’s rustic down-home sound bears the organic, folk finesse of its immediate predecessors. With geographical outposts steering the melodic motif, Oberst’s wanderlust may be a sign that he’s still in search of direction.

These occasional moments of quiet contemplation notwithstanding, Oberst continues to show spunk. He may be older and wiser now that he’s maturing and edging ever closer to 30, but he sounds as inspired as ever.

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