Ruminations finds Conor Oberst at his most stripped down and straight forward. The ten songs on Ruminations having been written during a hibernation period in his hometown in Omaha, Nebraska. The production here is minimal. A piano, a harmonica, an acoustic guitar and a story teller.
Conor Oberst’s stories of modern anxiety are brought to life through Conor’s meandering soliloquies. Fragments of information dropped piece by piece, until the image is fully formed. The process works best for Oberst in songs like “Counting Sheep”: “life is a gas / what can you do / catheter piss fed through a tube / cyst in the brain / blood on the bamboo..but I don’t want to seem / greedy / I’m generous / I’m just trying to be pleasing / to everyone / including you”. The late night mental hamster wheel that Conor’s brain is on charts out deteriorating health, current events, and the desire to love someone without seeming “neeeeeedy” in equal parts. The sentiments are poetic and unfiltered, reminiscent of some his most powerful work such as Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life”.
But Conor Oberst’s words have always felt unfiltered and what’s more interesting here is the ironic jabs at starlets and politicians felt in “A Little Uncanny”. He illustrates the unexpected positive aspects of people and images that the liberal artist has grown to detest. And with that he also puts himself under the microscope “it’s a little uncanny / what they managed to do / made me to admit to things I knew were never true”. At this climax we see Oberst moved by his own realizations. This is Ruminations at it’s most cutting and exciting.
On the downside, Oberst is prone to get bogged down in the idea of trying to make the listener feel something. Such as in “Next of Kin”, in which Oberst describes the death of a loved one in a car crash, Oberst loses his power of bringing people into the scene, and instead chooses to paint bleak on bleak. “I guess I lost all my innocence / way too long ago”.
Ruminations is dizzying poetic trip, at its worst; overly emotional, and at its best; clever, cutting and honest.
review by Jake Fox