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Tag Archives: Conor Oberst
There’s a winnowing that comes from distance and absence, in a way that reduces our connections with a person, place, or thing to a series of images, portents, and memories. Those remainders linger with us as touchstones of something lost and departed. Stranger in the Alps, the new release from Artist of the Month Phoebe Bridgers, captures the sense of that winnowing, the longing for something missing but still inescapably present, in beautiful melodies and heartrending lyrics.
It’s a feeling given form by Bridgers’ stirring voice. With shades of Gillian Welch and Jenny Lewis, the young singer’s captivating vocal performance provides the backbone for the record. Sometimes her voice is clear and arresting, standing out starkly amid the pleasing arrangements underneath. At others, it’s double-tracked and full of echoes, creating an ethereal, otherworldly vibe that helps conjure the spooks and specters that populate almost every corner of the album.
Salutations is a surprise. After Ruminations (the 10-track album written and recorded by Conor Oberst in the cold confines of Omaha, Nebraska) came out last year, the news that a second album, with full-band arrangements of those same 10 songs plus seven more, would be released this year was an unexpected bonus. Featuring the contributions of The Felice Brothers and Jim Keltner, it promised a new treatment of some of Oberst’s most raw compositions. The result is a fulsome new release, markedly different from its 2016 cousin.
If nothing else, Salutations is a fascinating look at the changes that come from collaboration and evolution in a studio setting versus the isolation in which these songs were born. Instead of relying solely on piano, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, Oberst and company employ accordions, organs, strings (of both the orchestral and fiddle varieties), and ethereal sound collage elements to build up these tracks and give them a unique character.
“It felt like a religious experience.” That’s how I described the last time I saw Conor Oberst perform live. In the summer of 2007, Oberst, fronting his usual band Bright Eyes and welcoming a slew of special guests, did a week of shows at Town Hall in New York City. I found myself sitting in the front row, captivated. That description feels hyperbolic now, but it was truly and sincerely felt at the time. For a certain strain of twenty-somethings who entered adolescence at the turn of the millennium, Oberst did more than just provide the soundtrack to our heartaches. He gave verse and form to our struggle to find meaning and come of age in a world that seemed to be both rapidly shrinking and receding away from us.
And yet beyond those starry-eyed acolytes, Oberst became a polarizing figure for both music diehards and casual fans. Equal parts lionized and dismissed, the pallid, dark-eyed singer has been championed as the next Dylan for his trenchant insights and folky style, and also slammed as a hack who scribbles feeble mawkish laments.
But for those few pitiable individuals who seemed to be untangling the same messy thoughts Oberst tried to unravel in his music, the Bright Eyes frontman sang something approaching beautiful, heart-rending truth, or, at least, truth to that experience. When he bellowed out to the crowd at Town Hall that his next song, “was about the rapture–maybe you’re waiting for it” before breaking into “Four Winds”, it felt like the heavens themselves would shatter as the band broke into the first violin-soaked beat.