Conor Oberst: Conor Oberst

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Conor Oberst 

Written By:

Ross Riley

06th August 2008
At 08:31 GMT

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From the very first time you come into contact with Conor Oberst's work, you reap one of two rewards. Sometimes you're assaulted and sometimes you're gently comforted.

From an artistic point of view it's most likely that Conor Oberst is disturbed by the fact that he can provide comfort to anyone that cares to listen – and so just when you think you've discovered a pattern of thought, you're taken to a place or stye that's orthogonal to where you started.

It's why on Fevers and Mirrors the intelligent dreamscapes of Something Vague and Haligh, Haligh segue into the jokey spoken antics of A Song to Pass The Time. Again on I'm Wide Awake.... Conor narrates the story of a girl's last moments before a plane crash, to kick off an album of deep political introspection.

So we're intriguingly presented with his, nominally, first solo album which offers a potential break from the five album run of Bright Eyes releases which themselves stack up as a diverse testament to Conor's ability to create challenging music that still has the ability to connect to the simplest and rawest emotion.

There's an obvious lineage that leads straight from Cassadaga. First there's the careful melding of country and folk tinges that in one stroke attempt to put listeners at ease with their homespun familiarity. As with Four Winds there's the poetic use of biblical references to paint a darker sheen on top of the absurdity of modern life.

Unlike the last couple of Bright Eyes albums, there's no poetic introductions here. Instead we launch into Cape Canaveral, which beneath the steady musical metronome, bubbles with the kind of expressive lyrical painting that Oberst has mastered the fading smoke over Cape Canaveral as a metaphor for all that is fleeting and temporary.

Time for a switch of style as Sausallito plods a laid back country style with a story of escape to simpler lifestyles but this is swiftly contrasted when the real pivot point of the album arrives at track four. Moneylenders Inside The Temple borrows from the gospel account for a metaphor of purity becoming infested with reality – "there's money lenders inside the temple / the circus tiger's gonna break my heart / something so wild turned into paper / If i loved you, well that's my fault".

This is Conor's songwriting at its finest, stylistically similar to Noone Would Riot For Less, though not quite as wide ranging in lyrical scope it feels more relevant by staying just a little simpler. There is also the barely spoken undercurrent that all we work for despite our best intentions is corrupted by our modern world and selfish leanings.

The bonus, should you dig a little deeper lyrically with this album, is that the depth is almost endless, take Eagle On A Pole with its Spanish refrain and Moab's celebration of life's ability to repair and refresh as long as you know how to break out.

The album finishes on another acoustic gem. Milk Thistle obviously carries references to the alcohol damage treatment but the bigger subject is that religion gives us nothing more than fantasies to grasp at, where the reality would only prove to be a let down – "If I go to heaven / I'll be bored as hell / like a little baby / at the bottom of a well." It may be that Conor is alluding to the post alcoholic comedown, that despite its painfulness seems worthwhile because it helps soften our take on reality.

It has to be said that this album takes perseverance, in style the new release is quite similar to Cassadaga which itself proved to be a slow burner but lyrically it treads a different plane. Gone is the intellectual gymnastics of tracks like Four Winds and Noone Would Riot, and this time it's replaced with a more introspective style of poetry. 

In fact ten years ago we were first wowed by Conor's ability to describe the intensely personal travails of life and romance in a way that added a fascinating layer of humanity to the everyday. After a long round trip, this, rather fittingly the first album under his own name, brings us back to similar ground with the addition of a level of maturity we've not seen before.

If you love Conor's work then you won't need us to nudge you to a record store, if you've not sampled it before then this is probably as good an introduction as you're going to need.

Rating:  9 / 10

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