The first few hits on the drumset make me ready for a rousing good time from Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band to rock my soul and keep my ear full of pleasant tasting music and dreams. I’ve listened in about a dozen times, and can honestly say that, as usual, Conor takes me deep within myself – a line sung in the song will take my mind off to deep memories and thoughts and return just in time to hear another line that will take my mind off on another tangent. That’s good for me, I enjoy these mind trips. But I won’t be able to coherently tell you the story Conor wants to convey. And that’s okay, because when you buy this CD you’ll experience your own newly uncovered dreams and deep thoughts.
I’ve thought a lot about how he pulls this off. Usually a guy doesn’t tell me a story, I tune him out. Conor has an uncanny ability to dig up stories from within myself, some of which I forgot about or never knew existed. How does he manage to do this? Conviction. Each note comes out of his mouth with complete and total conviction that the song is important and he has found a fantastic back-up band to support his convictions.
The first cut rocks Slowly (Oh So Slowly) – “the veil between the world and the faceless bride” – right off the bat we are reminded we are listening to a poet. “Dementia, you better treat me good. The human race is in its second childhood.” Another line lets me know that I’m not the only one who uses music as an escape from reality, “Sometimes I need a place to go. Classical music plays from my radio. I sit real still, let my shadow grow.”
An acoustic guitar strums To All The Lights In The Windows until the band gets me up on my feet dancing circles to biblical allusions. “That’s the thing about charisma – it makes everyone believe.” Big Black Nothing keeps the rock & roll beat while the poet is singing about “fooling everyone” and asking “will you still be my friend if I told you it’s all just pretend?” There is some cool call & response going on with the band in this song, which makes for a lot of fun, especially when they begin the clap-along joyful noise. “I’m real scared, but so prepared for the worst.”
Air Mattress was weird on the last tour, and is just as weird here – but in fun way. Like a quick just for fun break in the proceedings, a lightning fast dance to “twist the night away.” An 80’s flavored pop punk song about sharing – I picked up on that!
Cabbage Town is a beautiful tribute to Steve Nieve’s work with Elvis Costello. Ten Women Between You And Me is a self-confessed acoustic-flavored fantasy tune, “I’m biding my time like a cellar of wine.” The fun has a sorta bittersweet flavor when the poet looks for “one witness to mourn for our love,” and admits that the fantasy is a “tragedy”. Difference Is Time reminds me of “Lay Lady Lay” because Conor’s voice takes on a completely different timbre to tell this tale, “I want to be done with everything I know.” He includes an epitaph for his headstone, “Life is hard, even if you cheat.” This performance may be the classic one that gets played from this album 40 years from now.
I talked about Nikorette last year, and still feel the same time warp when listening to this performance. “There’s nothing more sad than a lynching mob full of rational men who believe in God.” The song also includes a bit of reality that turns out to be prophecy for the capitalist created crisis that has affected the economy of the poor and middle class while the rich stuff their pockets. “My neighbor dreams big ‘cause his house is small, says all he needs now is some capital. It’s a pirate world, it’s a free-for-all.
They take your bright ideas and they make them dull. . . It’s all just a fix.”
Bloodlines is a summer radio-ready pop masterpiece, “How could you refuse to believe it’s a wonderful life? Two sheets to the wind all over again”. Spoiled is a perfect follow-up summer radio song, the music happy & joyful over lyrics proclaiming “you get everything you want and you still feel down.” Total pop irony, I love it. Dance the depression away. Complete with party noises. This late summer song will play well, even after school has started and the kids are all writing their “what I did” essay. Worldwide is the radio song for autumn, “there’s a place you go when the weather’s cold, leave it all behind.” How I long for the days when there were radio stations that played songs like these. Dream on. Roosevelt Room is the ‘underground’ FM radio cut, complete with some far-out guitar solos bouncing off the organists salutations.
It’s hard to tell how serious the band wants us to take Snake Hill. Remember the guy who sang “Don’t Bogart” on the Easy Rider soundtrack. The voices sound like they’re pretending a southern accent, but the words have a serious intent. Leave it to someone smarter than I to figure out why the band chose this method to present this story of a young man seeking to visit the huge world outside his family surroundings. “I discovered that a girl was what my mother tried to hide from me. She can make you feel alive, she can make you want to die.”
Last year Conor made my personal list, as well as many other lists of top CDs for 2008. I have a real sneaky suspicion that this new CD is going to stay close enough to my CD player to reach the top CD list for 2009. A big thanks to Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band for making this week start off with a blast and having me look forward to many hot summer days listening to this fine album.
Check out Conor’s website this week for a stream of Slowly (Oh So Slowly), the opening cut; and a free download of Nikorette. Also, keep your eye open for a downloadable documentary film, One Of A Kind, from the website soon – it is being offered at no cost, with the understanding that if you receive personal benefit from it that you’ll donate some cash toward charity. Conor Oberst
A year ago - Souled Out:
A beautifully filmed live show from last year from Amoeba.com: