Exquisite Poetry Set to Spare Music from Conor Oberst

30 Nov

Conor Oberst has always been someone who has written and recorded songs that are perfect for when you’re in a sad or contemplative mood. Without having met him personally, you just know he’s highly sensitive, caring, and connected. Someone who’s closely attuned to feelings — both yours and his.

For a number of years, Oberst primarily recorded under the name Bright Eyes. Then came 2014’s Upside Down Mountain, a superb collection of polished, beautifully produced indie rock and folk-rock songs that he released as Conor Oberst. Surprisingly, it was not that well received, although in my review of it, I found it to be exceptional.

Then, his life turned south. Oberst found himself accused of rape — in an allegation that the accuser later recanted and apologized for, once the charge had been thoroughly discredited. Oberst also faced a number of serious health issues, including a cyst on his brain.

To recuperate from this turbulence and turmoil in his life, Oberst retreated to his native Omaha last winter, where he wrote ten songs that would become his latest album, Ruminations. He recorded the songs in two days, with just a piano, guitar, harmonica, and his singular vocals. Raw, real, and almost uncomfortably intimate — the songs were left as they were created — unadorned, with minimal added production value. The result is a sense that this is essentially his poetry set to music — Oberst’s most laid-back, Bright Eyes-like album in a number of years.

Standouts on the album include “Tachycardia,” which introduces us to the Dylan-style harmonica musings that accompany many of the songs; “Next of Kin,” a very Bright Eyes-sounding track; “A Little Uncanny,” with its biting, cynical lyrics about Jane Fonda and Ronald Reagan — and kind thoughts directed toward people he admires such as Robin Williams and Sylvia Plath; and “The Rain Follows the Plow,” an uplifting, piano-driven love song.

If you’re looking for something you can dance to, this is definitely not it. But if you’d like an album to play on Sunday morning when you’re feeling wistful or introspective, you need to add Ruminations to your collection.

 

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