Conor Oberst


Written by: LF on 16/06/2017 21:33:09

Indie folk singer-songwriter Conor Oberst released his latest solo album ”Ruminations” in October of last year. That album was a collection of acoustic songs featuring only Oberst himself on guitar, piano, vocals and an ever-present harmonica. Since then, he has decided to record all of those ten songs anew but this time with a full band. “Salutations” thus consists of these ten “old” songs mixed with seven newly written ones and makes for a very long album.

“Salutations” presents us with a full folk band in the shape of not just extra guitars, drums, and bass but also more harmonica, fiddles, and prominent communal backing vocals. The oft-waltzing rhythm and the soft, warm sound of the music occasionally make Oberst’s signature shivering voice and stark lyrics stand out more than usual, and in that way, some of the songs from “Ruminations” seem to get new layers of meaning. The most compelling of them thus carry through very well in this setting, not least the stand-out “Gossamer Thin” that waltzes its way right into the melancholic parts of my brain with a violin theme and musings about an unfaithful couple: ”And they’re spread gossamer thin / Pushed to the edge, frayed at the ends / And it’s no business of mine / If they can love more than one at a time / But they’re pushing their luck / It’s hard but they must / Risk it all for love”.

The new, sad but somehow still communally festive, song “Afterthought” appears as a close second in terms of the distinct style of Oberst’s existential lyrics that often stick out: "I thought about breakfast but settled on wine / Always choose hunger over despair / And what's possible over what's there". They are always in focus even as the sound is way more cramped here than on the simple “Ruminations”, but with an album that ends up lasting an hour and seven minutes, the folksy style and heavy tempo wears the listener out and the quirky lyrics aren’t quite gripping enough to make up for it. Granted, louder songs like “Napalm” or “Anytime Soon” spice things up with rowdy guitars and even an organ, but at other times, delicate songs like “Counting Sheep” and “Barbary Coast (Later)” lose some of the fragile magic they had in their acoustic versions.

Even though “Ruminations” was not my favorite Conor Oberst album, in the end, I think I will prefer going back to those versions of the songs. Concerning the seven new ones, the lyrics mostly do not strike me as deeply, and the steadfast tempos and ever-present violin- and harmonica-fillings whenever there is a free moment quite frankly get annoying and do nothing to help the songs stand out from each other. The communal spirit that seems to emanate from these recordings of the songs wrestles with the more angsty vibes from the lyrics, and while in a few songs these two figure out how to co-exist fruitfully, on the majority of the album, the edges of Oberst's compositions are softened way too much.

Download: Gossamer Thin, Afterthought, Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out
For The Fans Of: The Mountain Goats, Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes

Release date 17.03.2017
Nonesuch Records

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