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Conor Oberst
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
By this time, we should all know what to expect from Conor Oberst - be it from a solo recording or a Bright Eyes record. For all of his talent, his skill as a songwriter, the changes from album to album have continually been slight (with the glaring exception of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn which was released simultaneously with a more traditional record). On this, his first solo record since wrapping up puberty, Oberst is in fine form; never straying far from his roots or his fans' expectations, but keeping things interesting enough to warrant several repeat listens.

Album-opener, "Cape Canaveral," is the exact opposite of what we heard from Oberst's last outing, Cassadaga. It's minimalist approach to music is nothing like the grand productions of that record, and honestly, it's a bit refreshing to hear. The song's "choruses" are a bit reminiscent of "We Are Nowhere and It's Now," but when your catalogue of songs is as massive as Oberst's, a bit of overlapping is bound to occur. Conor sings of things he's learned in his life, saying, "You told me victory is sweet, even deep in the cheap seats," and the imagery that it projects is truly beautiful. "Sausalito" takes a different approach. The upbeat, country rocker is more reminiscent of Johnathan Rice (ugh) or even Joe Walsh. It's catchy lyrics and subtle harmonies give it a light, bouncy aesthetic that is often missing from Conor's work. Could it be that Oberst is actually having fun on this record?

That definitely seems to be the case. While most of his musical career has been weighed down by the heaviness of his lyrics or the subject of his songs, Conor Oberst is much lighter all around. This is never more apparent than on the album's centerpiece, "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)," a frantic, piano-led freak out that finds Oberst singing of his last moments, pleading, "I don't want to die in the hospital/ you gotta take me back outside/ help me get my boots back on!" He later explains, "They don't let you smoke and you can't get drunk/ all there is to watch are these soap operas," and I totally get it. "Get-Well-Cards" is more toned-down, but still rather light. Oberst sings, "I wanna be a bootlegger/ wanna mix you up something strange/ braid your hair like a sister/ maim you like a hurricane." Funny stuff, Conor. Funny stuff.

But even though it has its lighter moments, Conor Oberst still manages to meet the expectations of his fans who like their music a bit dark. On "Lenders in the Temple," Oberst sings of feelings of helplessness and despair, noting, "I'd give a fortune to your infomercial if somebody would just take my call," over nothing but a guitar. It's such a wonderful expression of loneliness and I've found it to be one of my favorite moments on the album. On the album's last track, "Milk Thistle" Conor subtly remarks, "If I go to heaven/I'll be bored as hell/Like a little baby/ at the bottom of a well," like it's not one of the better, more impressive lines on the entire record. Moments like these remind us why we listen to Oberst in the first place, why he is regarded by almost everybody as one of the most important songwriters of his generation, and make us thankful that the well that he pulls his songs out of is as deep as it is.

But as I said before, most of Conor Oberst is upbeat, or at the very least more light-hearted than anything the artist has created before. Though it is still rooted in the style of his previous records, it maintains a uniqueness and a freshness that won't wear thin for quite some time. To make the record, Oberst rounded up a few of his more musically-inclined friends (the Mystic Valley band, as they are now immortally known) last winter and headed to a small Mexican town where they stayed for five weeks, writing and recording the album. The cold winter months usually lend themselves to equally cold songs. But the change of climate must have done Oberst some good. Conor Oberst is a warm, inviting, and exciting album that does a wonderful job of setting itself apart from the artist's other musical endeavors. As such, it's one that any fan would be crazy not to add to their collection. And for newcomers, well, this may just be the best time to discover the genius of Conor Oberst. Buy it!

Key Tracks:
1. "Cape Canaveral"
2. "Get-Well-Cards"
3. "Lenders in the Temple"
4. "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)"
5. "Souled Out!!!"

8 out of 10 Stars
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
It's best to start with one warning: some people simply don't like Conor Oberst's voice, whether it be on this album, or as a part of Bright Eyes or Desaparacidos. That being said, it is impossible to dispute Oberst's proficiency as a songwriter. As a lifelong Springsteen fan, I've always considered The Boss to be one of the best lyricists of all time. Since I became a fan of Bright Eyes and Oberst, I would now consider him to be better than Springsteen. Some of his lines are truly incredible, and the listener cannot help but be touched.
This album is unlike any Bright Eyes record. Bright Eyes songs have become known for their sad sound and slow rhythm that can be described as nothing but "depressing". While this album has a slow, sad song or two, it also has incredibly upbeat, fast-paced songs such as NYC-Gone, Gone, Souled Out, and I Don't Want to Die (in a Hospital).
Fans will be moved once again. I didn't understand the full power of this album until I saw him on concert this week. The venue featured a high cost front section full of people waiting for the next act, while the distant lawn area featured the most inexpensive admission available, and seemed to be home to all the Oberst fans. While singing "Cape Canaveral", Oberst made a gesture towards our section when he sang, "victory's sweet even deep in the cheap seats".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2008
Conor Oberst has been the heart and soul of Bright Eyes since he was but a wee emo teen, and despite short-lived side ventures like Park Ave. and Desaparecidos, Bright Eyes has been, for all intents and purposes, Oberst's main musical vehicle. Now finally ducking out from under that weighted alias, Omaha's preeminent songwriter has (technically) struck out on his own with the aid of the Mystic Valley Band, a name that sounds like it came straight from a tent revival. Conor has always been a chameleonic musician, switching from punk rock to orchestral pop to squawking electronica on various projects, but Conor Oberst is a treatise on what Conor does best: folk/rock at its most earnest, introspective, and musically accomplished.

"Cape Canaveral" starts out the record in the vein of 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, a simple acoustic melody framing Oberst's typically sharp lyrics beseeching "hey hey hey mother interstate / can you deliver me from evil?" Conor and the band traveled down to Mexico to record this album, and evidently the southern climate paid off, giving much of the record an abnormally relaxed vibe when taken in context with Oberst's other work.

"Sausalito" is a shuffling, optimistic country-rock tune about running away from the modern world, a common theme on an album that, above all else, celebrates the highway and the allure of American back roads. "Moab" is the best example of this, a pulsing guitar-rock with a dash of country spice that wouldn't sound out of place on Cassadaga. When Oberst triumphantly announces, "there's nothing that the road cannot heal," by then you're having too much fun to disagree with him either way.

Lyrically Oberst is in top form, dropping sepia-toned images like "hear the Mustangs rev at the four way stop / you get ghosted when the light says go" on the anthemic "Get-Well-Cards" and painting a vivid pictures of the mind like "patterns in my mind now moving slow / sorrow all across the surface roads / smoothing out the edges of the stone / the lights are out, where'd everybody go?" on the beautifully dark "Lenders in the Temple."

Lyrics mean nothing without a solid backing track to flesh out the thoughts, and Oberst and his band don't disappoint. The bouncy guitars and tinkling piano on "Danny Callahan" contrast with the tragic subject matter, highlighting the potential for joy in the midst of grief. Bluegrass boogie rave-up "I Don't Want To Die (In A Hospital)" is one of the most urgent songs Oberst has ever recorded, a track that fairly explodes with energy, conjuring up a ridiculous image of Oberst rocking some country bar in the backwoods of Georgia. If there's ever been a better argument for living out your last days rather than wasting away in a bed, I haven't heard it.

Oberst has been getting more and more consistent with his offerings over the years, but with the sheer amount of ideas he has, there are always bound to be a few that never truly work out. "NYC-Gone, Gone," takes a simple American foot-stompin,' hand-clappin' beat and electrifies it with a stick-in-your-head chorus that inexplicably ends shortly after the minute mark. "Valle Mistico (Ruben's Song)" is a fairly pointless instrumental break that serves only to stunt the album's momentum.

But these are trifling problems, and the one-two punch of "Souled Out!!!" and "Milk Thistle" that closes out the record forgives any transgressions. The former is the sound of a band that sounds like they could keep playing music for eternity with a grin on their faces and a laugh in their throats, a bar-band sing-a-long with a roaring guitar and pounding drums, while the latter is a gentle acoustic strummer in the tradition of "Lime Tree" with some of the album's best lyrics: "I keep death at my heels / like a basset hound / if I go to heaven, I'll be bored as hell / like a crying baby at the bottom of a well." Simple and startlingly effective, it ends the record on one of many peaks.

If Conor needed to prove to anyone that he could survive and, more importantly, succeed outside of the confines of Bright Eyes, his work with the Mystic Valley Band should go a long way to putting any doubts to rest. He's not exactly the Bob Dylan of the millennial generation yet, but he's pretty far on his way.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
There are two things surprising about Conor Oberst's first solo outing in almost a decade. ONE: It still sounds pretty much like a Bright Eyes disc. TWO: Given the political forcefulness of his classic I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning in its election cycle release, this album is quite non-topical. (Heck, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn sounded more like a solo album than this does.) These are probably a good thing in many listeners' perceptions, and overall, Oberst is playing to his strengths.

"Conor Oberst" is, first and foremost, an unabashed folk album. Oberst even trekked to Mexico to record it (as mentioned in both "Cape Canaveral" and "Sausalito"), and it seems to have loosened him up a bit. Both "NYC Gone Gone" and "I Don't Wanna Die In The Hospital" are truckin' numbers that rock more than anything on Cassadaga. In particular, "Hospital" sounds like a hoe-down jam that could have been played out for an extended period just because the players were getting a groove on. As one would expect form Oberst, the wordplay is exquisite (again begging the Dylan comparisons), with poetic metaphors scattered throughout.

However, when Oberst drops the facade and gets deeply personal, he comes up with a couple of the best songs of his career. For me, the highlights of this CD are "Lenders in the Temple" and "Milk Thistle." "Milk Thistle" closes the album on an optimistic note, with encouraging words from Oberst over a clean guitar and bass only arrangement. It is my favorite song on the album and a study in contrast. The bright lyric over the tentative music hits just the perfect balance. (He pulls this off in reverse during "Danny Callahan," a peppy number about a dying child.)

With this album, Oberst once again assumes the mantle of great musical hope. There are few artists in the young folk scene making music that isn't over-precocious (although sometimes it gets real close) or not trying so hard to sound old/classicist that they have no identity. "Conor Oberst" suffers from no such issue, and (but for the silly conch blowing segment) this is a near flawless album.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2008
This album is definitely worth buying. I had really high expectations so at first it sounded a bit unpolished and familiar but after listening to it a couple times (which I always need to do) you will hear Conor's striking lyrics and unassuming thread of consistency. I'm so glad he released it because now I can't stop listening to it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2008
I've been listening to this album straight in my car for the past week and I absolutely love it.
I'm a huge fan of Bright Eyes but this is not a Bright Eyes album. Out of all of the albums it sounds most like Cassadaga but this is unique. It is a bit more contemplative with a more subtle expression of passion.

Favorites:

Cape Canaveral - A softer contemplative song.

Lenders in the Temple - "I'd give a fortune to your infomercial
if somebody would just take my call
take my call" I have to deconstruct this song more but their is definitely a alot of depth in it.

NYC-Gone, Gone - Bouncy and incredibly catchy. You will listen to this song on repeat. Guaranteed.

I Don't Want to Die (in a hospital) - Exactly as the title says. A dying person who refuses to spends their last moments of life in a dingy hospital.

I highly recommend this album.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2011
Some people might not like bright eyes, but Conor Oberst's work with the Mystic Valley band is superb. For those of us that prefer "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" above all other Bright Eyes music, this is the way to go. It's my favorite album. While you're buying music, check out the Monsters Of Folk Album as well as Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band's Outer South. You won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2008
Conor Oberst lives up to my expectations with a solid set of songs. Musically, this is more straightforward folk rock than last year's Bright Eyes release. The songwriting is strong as expected, and lyrically interesting though occasionally getting in the way of the story-telling. For example, in Cape Canaveral he sings that "flying saucer terror made me lazy drinking lemonade." Many of the songs share common themes--hitting the road to escape your troubles, separation and loneliness, atonement and forgiveness. Despite that several of the songs are very upbeat and fun, including "Suasalito", "Get-Well-Cards", and the rollicking "I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital)--about literally wanting to die with your boots on. My favorite track is "Danny Callahan"-where Conor asks if "the love you feel you carry inside can be passed". He tells us to "stop reading the weather charts, stop counting the playing cards" because "there's no system, there's no gaurantee". But he finds hope in the love between the boy with the "bad bone marrow" and his mother. Of course, he can still be cynical and pessimistic, hoping that the "world's exposed, a cruel and elaborate hoax", in "Eagle On A Pole", or warning us to "disguise your will" because "they'll find you out, and when they do, lookout". "Milk Thistle" finishes things off with new strength, now he's not "scared of nothing, I'll go pound for pound", and asks that if "you let me slide I'll do my best to make things right." I would strongly recommend for anyone who likes indie rock.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 16, 2008
No doubt he's a great songwriter. Now, with this one, he's become one of the best. This is his best album to date. Lucid, clean, relaxed and as always, well done. Maybe his Highway 61 Revisited. From the opening Cape through I don't want to die in a hospital and on to the end every song is more listenable top to bottom than any of his other albums.

Bright Eyes is good stuff but top to bottom too deliberate and self-aware for my tastes. This has a few raggedy edges, plenty of pop freshness, and a hundred layers of just plain great songwriting.

Conor is at his absolute best here.

My personal favorite this year.

Jim H.
Author
A Bottle of Rain
Nowhere Near the Sea of Cortez
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2009
His first release as a solo artist, Conor Oberst is a blend of rolling acoustic rock songs and stark folk tunes. Oberst's voice is right up front, his trademark trill an effective medium for delivering his music. His gift for painting pictures is reminiscent of Dylan (yet another comparison - sorry), but Oberst's frenetic intensity sets him apart. Most songs here are very strong, and Oberst stands firm as one of the most original songwriters of his generation. GENRES: Rock, Mellow Rock, Indie Rock.

BUY IF YOU LIKE: Elliott Smith, David Gray (old, before he got soft), Ryan Adams.
MUST HEAR TRACKS: "Cape Canaveral," "Get-Well Cards," "Eagle on a Pole," "Milk Thistle."
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