HEAR YE: Conor Oberst Conor Oberst

Now playing on Phawker Radio! Conor Oberst plays the Troc Tonite!

MEcropped2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA Like Dylan in his prime, Conor Oberst writes long, elliptical narratives — weaving word-clotted threads of angst and regret, anger and shame, ecstasy and joy, through a camel’s eye of symbolism, creating word circuses that fascinate even when they flirt with meaninglessness. As with Dylan’s songs, when you boil them all down, they’re essentially about one thing: the wonder of consciousness. Baby I’m amazed, therefore Ibrighteyes_01_1_1.jpg am.Both Bob Dylan and Oberst come from the Midwest — Dylan from Duluth, Minn., and Oberst from Omaha, Neb. (his dad actually works in that iconic Mutual of Omaha skyscraper). Both migrated to New York City to pursue their chemical fortunes, riding into town on a ribbon of personal myth and self-invention. Both are — or in Dylan’s case, were — J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield incarnate: impossibly young, madly poetic and profoundly alienated.

Both mastered the art of courting attention while seeming to want to be left alone. Both have voices that are, to put it charitably, acquired tastes, and yet they’ve both managed to convert a laughably limited range and a very casual relationship with pitch into a remarkably expressive instrument. Finally, both have managed to express definitively what it feels like to be young and alive and trying to mapquest meaning with only an acoustic guitar for a compass. As a result, they’ve become existential weathermen for large, loyal followings eager to know which way the metaphysical winds are blowing. MORE

bright-eyes-_600px_.jpgNEW YORK TIMES: Still, there’s nothing detached about the songs on “Conor Oberst.” He’s still looking inward, as he does in “Eagle on a Pole”: “It’s such a long way back to all the fun I had/When nothing ever seemed to bother me.” The sound of the music is sparse and rootsy, a straightforward recording of a handful of musicians making down-home connections to folk, country and the 1960s rock of the Grateful Dead and the Band. It’s a world away from current Top 10 radio formats, but disarmingly natural. He made the album with a few friends in an out-of-the-way place: a small mountainside resort hotel overlooking Valle Místico, in Tepotzlán, Mexico, which is also a well-known place for U.F.O. sightings. Mr. Oberst and his musicians spent five weeks in Tepotzlán. Their equipment was hauled up narrow roads by pickup truck; the piano wouldn’t fit through any doorways and stayed on a porch, where it “got more and more out of tune,” Mr. Oberst said with a smile. The musicians included Mr. Walcott, from Bright Eyes, and other familiar sidemen. The album was recorded on 16-track tape — “the first record I’ve made in probably five years that hasn’t been inside a computer at some point,” Mr. Oberst said. And the microphones captured not only the instruments but crickets and the thud of fireworks — a frequent occurrence — from the valley below. MORE

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