I recently read an article somewhere that claims that the music one listens to from ages 19-20 is the music that will always be the most formative to a person. Whether or not this is proven science or observation, it seems to hold up for me. I was introduced to Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes at age 18 and spent the next few years consuming as much of his music as possible. His middle-class, Catholic-school, and Midwestern point of view resonated with me in that it felt dramatic and introspective to what would otherwise be viewed as plainly normal.
Oberst’s last two releases have kept pace with my aging self. Now in his thirties, Oberst sings more about the struggle to keep struggling, to keep his ear to the ground.
Rumiantions, Oberst’s recent release, puts him squarely in front of the listener with only a guitar or piano, a harmonica, and his wobbly voice. His lyrics are as keen and New Yorker as they were on as 2005’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning though he seems to now realize he can’t always be the voice of a generation. Instead, he seems to realize he’s falling for all the traps of his generation. On “Barbary Coast (Later),” Oberst sings, “’Cause the modern world is a sight to see / It’s a stimulant, it’s pornography / It takes all my will not to turn it off.”
On Ruminations’ final track, Oberst returns to a familiar form with his bar-closing anthem “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out.” The song is in the sing-along style of previous cult favorite, “Make War.” In it, Oberst name-drops a favorite Lower-East-Side Manhattan dive where he can just go and be himself with his friends. No matter the problem, it can be cured with company, at least until “St. Dymphna kicks us out.”