Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst

The first thing that comes to mind with the release of this Conor Oberst solo album is why it’s not a Bright Eyes album. Conor Oberst has been using Bright Eyes as his musical outlet for over a decade now so why this sudden shift to a solo effort? Especially when some of the ancillary musicians remain the same, this time around the ancillary musicians carry their own moniker, The Mystic Valley Band.

If you’re familiar with Bright Eyes, you’ll be expecting a heavy dose of Conor Oberst’s biting wit and iconoclastic ruminations with plenty of marvelously original and warm melodies and clever pop nuances with a dash of Bright Eyes’ trademark cerebral rock. On Conor Oberst you still get the introspective meditations, but the focus seems to have shifted away from a universal view of human pain and suffering to a more personal view on mortality.

In addition to this shift in perspective, Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band have altered their musical approach as well. Although similarities to some of Bright Eyes’ earlier works, namely I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, can be heard throughout, the majority of the music on Conor Oberst is kinder and gentler with less of an indie-rock edge and more of a country twang.

This record was made over the course of two months while Oberst and the band were in Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico where they worked and lived “in near perfect harmony”. This may help explain some of the softer and tamer musical tactics heard that are immediately apparent on opener “Cape Canaveral”. With little more than an acoustic guitar and Oberst’s quavering voice, this track sets the tone for the rest of the album with it’s balmy and reflective tone, but due to it’s more tuneful nature ends up being one of the best songs on the album. The pace picks up over the next few tracks with songs that have a decidedly sunny and alt-country feel to them but never really develop into anything more than just decidedly sunny alt-country tunes, although lyrically they’re not always bright. They also fail to include any of the smart and keen indie-rock touches that made Bright Eyes’ 2007 release Cassadaga so enticing.

It’s not until the 6th track, “I Don’t Want To Die (In The Hospital)”, that the emotions get stirred with a more rousing melody and kicking beat that is picked up on “NYC-Gone, Gone”. The former uses a country-style sing-a-long chorus while the latter sounds more like a roots-y Camptown Girls ho-down. The saving grace is the more indie-styled “Souled Out!!!” that includes some wiry guitar bits before the disc closes with another acoustic-based singer/songwriter ballad called “Milk Thistle”.

The opening and closing tracks prove that Conor Oberst is a more reflective and personal venture as both are stripped down affairs, one summoning childhood memories while the other seems to contemplate suicide. The songs in between are mostly straightforward conceptions culled from recycled melodies heard on earlier albums. The irony of country twang with serious, personal lyrics and the lack of Bright Eyes’ edgy rhythms may explain why this is a Conor Oberst album and not a Bright Eyes disc.

Recommended Tracks: “Cape Canaveral” and “Souled Out!!!”