Release Date: Oct 14, 2016
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
What I am most afraid of is the Dylan and Nebraska-era Springsteen comparisons this album will get. Ruminations is a sonically stripped down tour de force with just a piano, an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and Conor Oberst’s signature wavered vocals. Each song was recorded live with Oberst either playing the piano or playing the acoustic and embellishing with the harmonica.
Late last year Conor Oberst was hospitalised while on tour with Desaparecidos owing to laryngitis, anxiety and exhaustion. What should have been a victory lap for the band and their tremendous reunion album was promptly curtailed, and Oberst returned to Omaha to recuperate. It later emerged that the singer had a cyst on his brain as well as inordinately high blood pressure.
When an album yields praise, much of the credit often goes to the assumed meticulous toiling done by the artist. Conor Oberst’s Ruminations, however, comes with the knowledge that the artist put in little more than a day’s work recording the album. But while the tracks came about quickly, they were likely in the works long before Oberst himself even realized.
Conor Oberst has long been considered one of the more mysterious and enigmatic auteurs of independent music, dating back to his breakthrough records at the turn of the millennium. He has, however, recently suffered one of the most challenging periods of his professional and personal life, and what has resulted is perhaps the most intimate, candid collection of songs of his career so far. Opening track Tachycardia deals explicitly with the ordeal Oberst was put through in 2014 when a woman accused him of sexual assault (an accusation that she later confirmed was “100% false”).
Recorded in 48 hours last winter back in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, this latest solo full-length from Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst finds the singer on incredibly raw form, both musically and emotionally. Though never one to hide his emotions within his songs, these 10 tracks bring Oberst’s personal frailties and, well, ruminations, into closer focus than he has done for years, even if most of them appear to be tales about other people. It makes for a delicate, contemplative album – whether that’s the imagined apocalyptic melancholy of Mama Borthwick (A Sketch), the gentle, stripped-down vulnerability of opener Tachycardia, or the almost Leonard Cohen-esque mythological lyricism of The Rain Follows The Plow.
Recorded in snow-bound Nebraska last winter, Conor Oberst’s latest solo album finds him rowing back from the lush 70s west coast sounds of 2014’s Upside Down Mountain for an altogether more self-contained affair, on which the sometime Bright Eyes frontman plays all the piano, harmonica and guitar parts himself. The rediscovered intimacy suits him – there’s a bracing directness to these songs that’s been lacking over the last decade. Lyrically, however, bleakness is never far below the surface, and death and illness are near constants.
Mortality looms large on Conor Oberst's seventh album, Ruminations, though it's not death itself that concerns the singer-songwriter, but rather the malaise that can come from, or lead to, a diminished quality of life. Last year, Oberst suffered a major health scare, and he's used that experience to populate this album with characters who struggle with maladies both natural and self-inflicted. Recorded in just 48 hours during a retreat to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska last winter, Ruminations departs from the robust, full-band arrangements and polished production of 2014's Upside Down Mountain.
Conor Oberst’s music has never sounded lonely. Yes, he’s done catatonically despondent, inconsolable, dejected, maniacal—it's a lot to handle, and yet he’s always been surrounded by friends both local and legendary who believe in his vision, underscoring his status as one of the 21st century’s most mercurial and charismatic songwriters. Arriving almost a month after a comprehensive Bright Eyes boxed set that feels like a headstone for the band, Ruminations is a record like none other in Oberst’s catalog—stunning for how utterly alone he sounds.
Atop the CD sleeve for Conor Oberst’s new LP Ruminations, there’s a sticker that reads, “Made in Omaha in the dead of winter, 2016.” It’s a marketing gimmick, perhaps, but it’s also a statement that speaks volumes about the Bright Eyes frontman’s latest work. This is a Midwestern record; a cold record; a contemporary record. Between the walls that contain it, the introductory “Tachychardia” and valedictory “Til St.
Conor Oberst used to whimper, wail and howl bloody murder, but he never used to ruminate. Things have changed, though; the Omaha songwriter has grown more restrained in recent years, and Ruminations, an album recorded during a lonely winter in his native Omaha, NE is another level-headed solo collection from the once-angsty Bright Eyes leader. Although the album's restraint is typical of Oberst these days, Ruminations isn't simply business as usual: this is the musician at his quietest, with skeletal arrangements built entirely around acoustic guitar and piano, with only harmonica to provide accompaniment.
Conor Oberst turned 36 this year and his recording career is already 22 years deep. In that time, he’s gone from songwriting prodigy to indie culture mainstay, with some projects standing out more than others, as is inevitable when you offer up new music on a yearly basis. And just when it seemed like his prolific nature is the best attribute of his 30s, he released last year’s Desaparecidos record, which manages to sound every bit as hungry and agitated as the project’s original offering did a decade earlier.
Recorded in less than 48 hours with longtime collaborator Mike Mogis and engineer Ben Brodin, Ruminations sees Conor Oberst going full-on Nebraska, delivering a raw, difficult, and often beautiful set of deeply personal songs with minimal accompaniment. His seventh solo album and first since 2014's Upside Down Mountain, Ruminations is a far cry from the fiery, politically charged punk of 2015's Desaparecidos outing Payola. That said, it delivers much of what fans have come to expect from the prolific, erudite midwesterner; alternately shambolic and stately distillations of life's hardships, delivered with honesty and wobbly conviction.
Written in the winter of last year during an extended visit to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, Conor Oberst’s seventh solo album is his most low-key outing yet, its sparseness reflecting its unexpected nature. Recorded in a 48 hour stretch after a snowy flurry of inspiration with just a piano, guitar and harmonica, Ruminations shows the indie icon continuing to quieten after his most storied project Bright Eyes, and doubling down on his folk career. While he may never again nail the zeitgeist as with I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, Oberst’s quavering voice and signature lyricism never fail to deliver moments of brilliance.
Conor Oberst's seventh LP is a refreshing renewal of the anxiety-ridden intimacy that marked his earliest work with Bright Eyes nearly 20 years ago – usually just Oberst accompanied by piano, a moody harmonica and some spare acoustic finger-picking. The stakes are getting high as he bites into midlife. "Counting Sheep" addresses a recent medical scare (the diagnosis of a cyst on his brain) and begs for a good night's rest: "Closing my eyes, counting the sheep/Gun in my mouth, trying to sleep/Everything ends, everything has to." The refusal of hope or respite in these songs often makes Ruminations feel like Oberst's Blood on the Tracks.
Conor Oberst released the second album with his viciously political hardcore band Desaparecidos last year, and it was as fuelled by discontent as its 2002 predecessor. The album showed a remaining fire in the Bright Eyes man. ‘Ruminations’ feels like a comedown as such. His first solo album since 2014 ‘Upside Down Mountain’ features only Oberst, a piano, an acoustic guitar and the occasional flash of harmonica.
The main story behind Ruminations is that following a “tough winter” that included the discovery of a cyst on his brain, Conor Oberst wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to write a song again. This would come as a shock to anyone who’s followed Oberst’s career even distractedly. The Nebraskan songwriter is astonishingly prolific, from his best known incarnation, Bright Eyes, to his solo work and other projects like Monsters of Folk.
Whether he’s going aggro-punk, as on last year’s Desaparecidos re-up Payola, or playing indie Paul Simon on lush Americana albums like 2014’s Upside Down Mountain, Conor Oberst might as well be strumming solo. The longtime Bright Eyes leader sings every song like he’s shivering on your doorstep, unburdening himself of whatever’s on his mind. No matter what he wraps his voice in, that warble is pretty naked.
by Mac Gushanas Conor Oberst, he of the prolific, does-he-ever-stop-working class of folk-rock, has now reached seven solo albums to go along with countless others in groups like Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos. With Ruminations, Oberst goes bare and simple: a dude, his guitar, a piano, and a harmonica. That harmonica quickly becomes Oberst’s best friend.