Posted by: outroversion | March 29, 2017

[Review] Conor Oberst- Ruminations & Salutations

I wrote a review for Ruminations when it first came out but never published it. With the recent revamp and release as Salutations I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to Contrast and Compare the two…

The first review i’m just going to put up unedited and unformatted from when I first wrote it, in the vein of Ruminations. The second is a lot more polished, like Salutations.

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Conor Oberst Ruminations

Conor’s new album has been out about a month now. I haven’t listened to it yet. I mentioned this to someone who knows me well and they asked why and it’s the same reason I only listened to Upside Down Mountain once. I loved Outer South when I finally listened to it but it took me years before I gave it time.

I discovered Bright Eyes quite late, the details of which I go into more here. I mean, it was like 2004 and it’s 2016 now so I guess it could have been later. Bottom line is i’ve been dining on Bright Eyes for over a decade, it’s a constant in an ever changing world. Despite Conor’s different styles on each album you still know what you’re getting.

His music has always been full of emotion, as has the music. The thing is, full band it’s for any mood you can just enjoy the music if you want or the lyrics or the general masterpieces he so consistently delivered. I’ve listened to the catalogue at my worst and best but there’s something unnerving about the stripped back nature of his solo work like there might be a warning against listening while tormented by one personality flaw or another.

When you know without any doubt what he’s going to say is going to feel like it’s written for you, like everyone seems to feel about his music. How can you know when you’re ready to hear it?

“It’s a bad dream, I have it seven times a week”

When Conor goes acoustic it’s probably when he’s at his realest, even more so when it’s just him and a piano. Tachycardia is very much in the same vein as Ladder Song and within the first minute it already touches so many nerves like he’s racing over all possible life experiences to draw in as many lost souls as possible. Death, suicide, loneliness, hopelessness, criminality, insomnia, anxiety, alcoholism, depression and poverty, it really hits a lot of nerves.

“The modern world is a sight to see. It’s a stimulant, it’s pornography”

In the 90’s a lot of songs had brackets (in their titles), it’s rarer to see it these days so a bit of a throwback with Barbary Coast (Later) and it’s easy to forget he was already releasing solo albums back then and the style of this is definitely reminiscent of some of those earlier songs with the musicianship taking a back seat to the lyricism. Remember that Dylan album from around 2006, Modern Times, ten years later and Conor’s seeing things the way someone twice his age might which is pretty much how he’s lived his life.

“I don’t want to eat or get out of bed, I try to recall what the therapist said”

Being such a private person and given the events of the last couple of years it’s unlikely that this album is autobiographical, if it were Gossamer Thin wouldn’t be his style it would be far too transparent but as it is the protagonist is vague despite the clear references to life on the road, infidelity, abuse and obsession and again I highly doubt he’s talking about himself. Everything’s cold and atmospheric so far.

It’s all very Fevers & Mirrors up to and including Counting Sheep. All the songs were apparently written and recorded during the winter of last year in Omaha, while recovering from illness which might explain why it feels like a throwback to a more cabin fevered song writing style.

In fact, he recorded demoes over a period of 48 hours during that time and what you’re hearing here are those as the record company insisted he released them as they were.

As far as I know he’s never used back masking in a song before and the reason for it has been discussed at length without any conclusion. Personally, I feel it’s a creative decision. It’s a lot more emotive to have this effect suggesting these children’s names have been removed out of respect for their families than to use an actual name (as he has been live).

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“A fortune spent but that’s irrelevant to build something that’s sacred till the end”

As literal and biographal as you’ll ever get from Conor. Regarding Frank Lloyd-Wright’s feats of architecture, the song is so named as he built a house (above) for Mamah Borthwick after their marriage collapsed. Nice thing to do really. Unfortunately she was murdered in the home a few years later by a servant. It was where Lloyd-Wright designed a lot of his buildings, likely including the others referenced in the song.

“They say a party can kill you
Well sometimes I wish it would”

A Little Uncanny touches upon war, cancer, suicide, the wealth gap and celebrity. Named-checked are Jane Fonda and Robin Williams, the list goes on and includes Ronald Reagan which is not unusual for a man who, in some of his other presidential portraits called out George Bush, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Kick Kennedy. The song is about influence. The influence of these notables on more people than they could ever know, for better or worse. There’s definitely a thread of his own awareness of his own legacy running through this album something that is becoming more apparent with each track.

“Just a name in a database who must be notified”

I’m not writing about this song.

________________________________

This is where I finished the original review. I remember listening to that song and I still feel how hard it hit home listening to it now.

“The thing is, full band it’s for any mood you can just enjoy the music if you want or the lyrics or the general masterpieces he so consistently delivered”

~ My review of Ruminations

Looks like I got my wish…

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Conor Oberst- Salutations

Well it’s here! A full band accompaniment to Ruminations! Full band? That means Bright Eyes right? Well, I haven’t listened or know anything about the album yet but I doubt it.

First thing I notice is the album is twice as long as the original with 7 extra tracks and also that the original track listing has been chopped, changed and intersected with these new additions. The first of which is the opening track, Too Late to Fixate.

To be honest this DOES song a little Cassadega-ry! It’s about LSD, the people referenced are all famous advocates of the drug but there’s a more potent meaning to be found in the opening phrases of the song that remains true throughout; the power of focus. In your relationships, in your work, your life, focusing on the things that empower you rather than the alternative.

The first reworking is Gossamer Thin, notably more upbeat, backing vocals, slightly higher in tempo and much better for it. His catalogue is wealthier for the inclusion of this version. I needn’t go into detail on the tracks that aren’t new but it’s great to hear him surrounded by people weaving a less desolate musical tapestry. They are as he originally intended and are, with only a couple of exceptions, an improvement though the demoes are perfect for certain days and particular moods.

OK so Next of Kin is the song that made me stop writing the last review. Makes you feel how your life would be if you lost someone to make you appreciate them more.

Napalm is a great track, he’d actually been playing it live as far back as the summer of 2015. Musically it fits right in the Cartoon Blues, When the President Talks to God, Roosevelt Room era, it’s so stylish and smooth this is when he’s at his best and certainly one of the premier moments of the album.

I can absolutely 100% guarantee that Anytime Soon was written during the Outer South sessions. My God, if a song is ever a snapshot of a musical era of Conor’s it is this. The music, the way he’s singing, the vocal experimentation and general positivity.

Counting Sheep is nearly as sparse as the original to be honest, even with some percussion and backing vocals. The back-masking is taken out and names are used this time, the general feel of it isn’t as withdrawn and I feel if there is a track that suffers from being fleshed out it is this as the strength was in its direct and unprocessed, honest infancy.

I did say I wasn’t going to bother writing about the songs that were on the other one but I can’t help it when it comes to anything Oberst related.

One of the stand out moments on the first release was A Little Uncanny, a commentary on the influence of various celebrities on the public consciousness. Again, I actually preferred the first version! Going into listening to this album I didn’t expect any of them to stand up against full band recordings and if it was anyone else they wouldn’t but Conor Oberst will always prove an exception.

“You could’ve left me in the water
But you made me live again”

It closes with the title track which again is a general buck to the trend of any album over the past however long.  It’s a nice way to leave it and for once there’s no feeling of wondering if there’s going to be another album. This bearing in mind the dual-album release of 2005, and the clearing out of Noise Floor, the 4 year gap after Cassedega and then the “permanent hiatus” after People’s Key. He’s already playing songs live off the next one and he’s left everyone with plenty to go on which to be fair, he always seems to. How to end this?… His consistency over the past 15 years is Ronaldoesque.  I give up.

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