After decades of song writing in endless bands, Conor Oberst clearly knows what he’s doing with his fourth album post Bright Eyes. The prolific indie-rock legend delivers another powerful record that does end up feeling repetitive at times. Somehow though at 17 songs all full of great detail and life, repetition is a small price to pay.
Opening tracks like “Too Late To Fixate” and “Gossamer Thin” mix a sense of euphoria with a brutal sadness aided by Oberst’s shaky vocal style. Between these tracks there’s such an amazing amount of pathos between the harmonica, piano and strings that the composition takes you on an emotional rollercoaster over and over again. Oberst’s overt ability for darkness is felt on the death-laden “Next Of Kin” which aches of mourning in its few moments. Between these heavily emotional tracks, Oberst writes tracks that come off as a new folk standards, with an odd campfire quality to their sound.
“Napalm” however gives a welcome kick of life to a record so sorrowful and downbeat, with a real sense of anger and excitement flying out of Oberst’s vocals and guitar. While such a bright and hopeful track starts to point out the tiring melancholy of the record, by the time “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out” finishes, Oberst is already trying to spin some more joy into his dark sound. As he starts “Barbary Coast (Later)” the fluttering strings and warm guitar are soaring up with him, along with the heartbreaking harmonies and emotional climax in the song’s instrumental solo.
While he continues this lift, Oberst does little to elevate above any other singer-songwriter up until the intriguing “Anytime Soon” where he croons of bittersweet moments that lead to better times with some delicious harmonies while talking about not wanting to do the right thing when it’s tough. While cutting deep into worries of his own end on “Counting Sheep” and hitting a vicious high on the instrumental ending to “Rain Follows The Plow,” Oberst still feels like he’s ruminating on familiar patterns throughout this record, which while conducted well and cleverly composed, are too familiar by this late in the record. Closing on the title track, Oberst pulls every last heartstring he can with a powerfully emotive finale of cascading guitars and vocals.
Where Conor Oberst’s latest solo record hits hardest is in the rare moments he manages to craft joy along with sadness, making listeners feel the full weight of both ends of the spectrum. An interesting listen in the context of both his entire career and recent health scare, the darkness and sombre tones that permeate it make a lot more sense. As parts of the record seem to ruminate on certain feelings and tones repeatedly, knowing Oberst’s current situation one can’t help but think this comes from ruminating he’s doing in his own life that is becoming part of his own music. This said given the exceptional length of the record, the ruminating makes the album feel its length and may grow old to those not in the mood, as interestingly personal as it is.
review by Owen Maxwell