Conor Oberst

Ruminations

Written by: LF on 09/01/2017 17:50:22

In October 2015, singer-songwriter Conor Oberst was hospitalized in the middle of a tour with his punk rock band Desaparecidos and a press release stated that it was due to laryngitis, anxiety, and exhaustion. The tour was canceled, Oberst returned to his home to recuperate and that winter he went on to write and record the songs that make up the seventh solo album under his own name: "Ruminations".

Oberst's description of writing while just watching the snow fall outside, resonate very well with the soft and quiet world he has created on this record. The songs are in his usual repetitive, narrational verse style, mostly with no clear choruses, and the album has a very minimal instrumentation. It features only Oberst on vocals, piano, guitar and a harmonica, and thus the songs flow along very calmly. Even more "upbeat" or dominatingly instrumental ones like "A Little Uncanny" and "Counting Sheep" fit well within this calm setting.

As is most often the case with Oberst's solo efforts, the lyrics are at the forefront and even more so here with the downplayed instrumental side where the loudest instrument seems to be the ubiquitous harmonica, drawing my thoughts towards Bob Dylan every time it appears for a lengthier solo-section. Amongst Oberst's various thoughts and semi-dream-like lyrical sequences, the most striking are the ones delivered with the most depressing contrast, like this slowly unfolding picture in "Tachycardia": "On a slow day, the rain against the windowpane of the cafe, She spills the coffee grounds, And the same thought hits her like a cinder block, Life's an odd job that she don't got the nerve to quit", or the almost absurd simplicity of the rhythmic opening lines in "Counting Sheep": "Closing my eyes, counting sheep, Gun in my mouth, trying to sleep, Everything ends, everything has to".

The waltzing "Gossamer Thin" and the extremely atmospheric descriptions of "Barbary Coast (Later)" are however the ones that win the day after the more striking lyrics have settled and stopped being surprising when they appear. I once described Oberst as one of my favorite songwriters, and his quirky observations and to-the-point lyrical expressions are still great even though there might be further between the ones that really keep hitting me head-on with this record. The quivering melancholy of the record mostly fails to become more than just pretty piano-tunes but there's still a couple of great ones that warrant a listen if you need some breathing space with a calm album.

6

Download: Gossamer Thin, Barbary Coast (Later), Counting Sheep
For The Fans Of: Bright Eyes, Okkervil River, Kevin Devine
Listen: facebook.com/conoroberst

Release date 14.10.2016
Nonesuch Records

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