Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band

Outer South

Written by: TL on 07/06/2009 17:33:44

While I've never been a close follower of Conor Oberst's career, I have been known to enjoy the albums he's released since Bright Eyes' "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning", and hence it's natural for me to become the chosen staffer when it comes to reviewing new releases from him. Last time we heard from him was when he released his first album under his own name, without the help of Bright Eyes collaborator Mike Mogis. Back then he had instead enlisted the help of The Mystic Valley band, and they have also aided him now, and this time around they're even credited on the cover as well.

The new album is called "Outer South" and if you've heard "Conor Oberst" and the last Bright Eyes album "Cassadaga", then you'll probably be hard pressed to point out any differences, and that's because they really are hard to spot. Oberst seems to have found his niche in a bluesy, westernish singer/songwriter style, aligning himself closely with an artist like Ryan Adams, in being a modern interpretation of the music that Bob Dylan has always championed. Oberst is not exactly the most talented singer on earth though, and his strength has always been in his quirky lyrics and his charismatic delivery, and that is also the case on this album. In fact, the only thing that's really changed is that this is the first album to include songs written and sung by members of The Mystic Valley band.

Other than that, so little has changed that I'm starting to question if Oberst hasn't been overtaken by for instance Dallas Green's City And Colour albums when it comes to this genre, simply because "Outer South" contains so few surprises. The album has good songs alright, most of them located in the second quarter of its length (fx. "Big Black Nothing" and "Difference Is Time"), but overall it's a bit of a hit and miss effort, with some of the songs having a harder time leaving an impression upon the listener than is customary for Oberst's work. Interestingly, the songs I personally like the best are the ones not written by the main man. Given than the inconsistency though, "Outer South" becomes one of those albums that shows why having lots of songs on it is a double-edged weapon. I've always said that if you can write sixteen good songs, then by all means put sixteen songs on your album. However, if you can only write ten good songs and six ones that don't meet the standards of the others, then only put the best ten on your album! As it is now, it seems a bit like the large number of songs is an attempt to have everyone's ego represented on the record, rather than because all the songs were good enough to be included.

The musicianship here is generally in order, but given how little the album really differs from its two predecessors, one starts to wonder if it isn't a bit pointless, especially so when listening to those songs on the record that take up the space between the best ones without seeming very memorable. Especially towards the end, you're likely to start wondering why the record hasn't ended yet. So all in all, loyal Oberst appreciators won't find any nasty surprises on this disc, but they won't find any positive ones either, and thus their numbers aren't likely to grow much as an consequence to its release. I for one would recommend Conor Oberst to re-up his level of ambition if he wants to stay relevant in a world were acoustic rock isn't exactly a dead and empty genre.


Download: Air Mattress, Big Black Nothing, Ten Women, Difference Is Time
For The Fans Of: Bright Eyes, Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan

Release Date 05.05.2009
Merge Records

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