Conor Oberst's songwriting is an intricate composition of words that construct images real and implied. Words that juxtapose, contradict, form associations, comparisons and work to form an asymmetrical structure. The listener navigates the labyrinth of iconic symbols, religious legends, history, geography and societal phraseology of a troubled world. Oberst is always trying to figure it out and maybe get it right.
Conor and The Mystic Valley Band recorded in a temporary studio in a mountain villa for a one-month session in Tepoztlán, Morales, Mexico. The simplicity and comfort of production capture the words and bring to life the songwriting palette of Conor Oberst. His brushes are his metaphors that are lovingly woven into melody structures.
There are familiar sounds like Dylan song-speak in “Get-Well-Cards” and Tom Petty in the upbeat “Sausalito” and " Souled Out” that are inspirational appropriation. And yes there is Bright Eyes. The beautiful single note intros, treatments of atmosphere and countryesque rootsy folk charm.
The song “Cape Canaveral” starts with a pulse of percussion marking time while the guitar gently picks. The narrator weighs his destiny, as he reveres the ancient stoic presence of totem poles that is juxtaposed with the boundless possibilities of the rocket at Cape Canaveral. Our lives, often messy and complicated are not symmetrical like universal formality. We search for common truths in our memories, that fade and blur with time. / some 1980’s grief / gives me parachute dreams / like old war movies / while the universe was drawn / perfect circles form infinity.
The sad circumstances of a young life taken too soon from bad bone marrow, takes on a celebratory tone in “Danny Callahan”. A message ensues / how the love we feel inside we can pass / see a brother in the gutter / you reach out your hand /. In contrast, the rollicking rockabilly of “I Don't Want To Die (in a hospital)" is a hilarious affirmation of life. An older man passionately declares / I don’t want to die in the hospital / You got to take me back outside / and in the form of a desperate chant of determination he shouts / let me get my boots on / as the raucous piano chops of Nate Walcott play on with Jason Boesel drum shuffling with abandon.
“Lenders in the Temple” has emotional weight necessary to convey how money and power can corrupt and lead to the hypocrisy of divergent ideas. / There’s moneylenders inside the temple / that circus tiger going to break your heart / something so wild / turned into paper / If I loved you / well that's my fault / He manages to insert his own frailties and remorse and make some kind of atonement for what he has done. Overwhelmed with empathy for / the starving children / ain’t got no mother / and commercialism gone awry, / while there are pink flamingos in the mall / I’d give a fortune for you infomercial if somebody will just take my call / take my call……
“Sausalito” and “MOAB” are road songs where both the physical and abstract meet. / while bikers glide by highway shrines / where pilgrims disappear / is the chorus of “Sausalito”. The happy upbeat sounds glide by while / hair blowing in the hot wind / and smell of leather in your new car /. As the chorus celebrates the joyous simplicity of a road trip, the words find footprints anchored in history. “MOAB” is a slow country tune with beautiful harmonies / there’s nothing that the road cannot heal / that has a formidable answer / you can’t break out of a circle that you never knew you were in /.
The music start simply on “Eagle on a Pole” but dramatically becomes full, as Conor’s wavering and forceful emotional voice is highlighted. The drama of fragile memories and the significance of are mementos are fleeting …/ while the ashes of the dead / like the dandelions head / exploding and are scattered by the breeze /. The weeping guitar leads of Nik Frietes poignantly erupt. And sadly these words ring true / It’s such a long way back / when nothing seemed to bother me.
The last track “Milk Thistle”, expresses the fragile nature of life and always-looming death, compared with life’s harsh realities. While this sentiment is relayed there is still hopefulness and fight to go pound for pound, giving encouragement to those trying their best. Unfortunately there are always reminders of what a struggle it can be to stay above the ominous reality…/ newspaper / newspaper / can’t take no more / you’re here every morning /waiting at my door / I’m just trying to kiss you / and you stab my eyes / make me blue forever / like an island sky /and I’m not pretending / just let me have my coffee before you take away the day. / Effective simplicity, with Conor on guitar and Macey Taylor on bass.
On this release words are vehicles for understanding and give meaning in a world filled with contradictions. As I visualize his words I find solace and claim life and optimism despite the inevitable. One day I won’t feel, but on this day I still do.
Produced by Conor Oberst with the help of engineer and longtime associate Andy LeMaster. Conor Oberst (guitar, voice) Taylor Hollingsworth (guitar, voice), NiK Freitas (guitar,voice), Macey Taylor (bass, voice), Nate Walcott (Keys, Piano), Jason Boesel (drums, voice) Andy LeMaster (voice)