The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Singer goes to Mexico, tweaks sound

    Renee Rosenow

    “There’s nothing that the road cannot heal,” is Conor Oberst’s latest mantra, and the indie rock wunderkind has made it a point not to stay in one place for too long. Instead of recording with his usual moniker “Bright Eyes,” and ditching his long time label Saddle Creek, Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band skipped country to Mexico to record his first solo album in 13 years. Despite these drastic changes in line-up and distribution, there isn’t a lot that has changed in Obert’s sound. His signature warble; themes of Americana and razor sharp lyrics are all present on “Conor Oberst.”

    But, there are two conflicting musical themes on “Conor Oberst” – the boot knockin’, honky-tonk sound of “Sausalito” and “Souled Out!!!,” and the restrained, meditative form of “Lenders in the Temple” and “Milk Thistle.” Although it doesn’t make for a strong cohesive album, it works in Oberst’s favor by adding diverse textures to his sound.

    “Cape Canaveral” opens the record in just that way, with Oberst’s true contemplative form and his evocative narrative center stage as he recalls a 1960’s space shuttle launch with “the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral.”

    “NYC-Gone, Gone,” with its foot stomping beat and rousing guitars offers Oberst’s take on leaving New York for Mexico City, where he resided while recording the album.

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    The entire production feels looser than Oberst’s previous recordings. His “Bright Eyes” records are dense and potent, and that’s what many fans love about them. It is however refreshing to see a songwriter as prolific as Oberst relax a bit and find a happy medium in his music.

    Oberst is at his best when accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. He demonstrates this simple style of songwriting on “Milk Thistle,” a quiet, Bob Dylan-esque anthem with a title that originates from a homeopathic cure for hangovers; an ailment Oberst is certainly no stranger to.

    Die-hard “Bright Eyes” fans might find it hard to accept this new sound. His chord progressions might have too much twang, and his lyrics too scattered, but solo albums are meant to be experimentations.

    The lyrical subject matter on this self-titled album has shifted away from Oberst’s usual neurosis to a cast of other characters. It paints an intriguing scene of the eclectic people and places that have influenced him, but one of the most interesting things about Oberst’s music has always been the way he copes with his own mental state. Many of his “Bright Eyes” albums act as miniature case studies of his life and relationships through his hyper personal storytelling.

    After releasing a dozen or so full-lengths and EPs with “Bright Eyes,” it only seems natural for Oberst to try a different approach on his solo album. To maintain artistic integrity, it is important to continue moving forward in concepts and performances. This may not be Oberst’s best recording to date, but it is by no means his worst. Think of it is as a portrait of an enigmatic artist at this exact point of his career.

    – Dave Taintor

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    Singer goes to Mexico, tweaks sound