Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band
Outer South Review
Indie folk rock musician Conor Oberst is releasing his fifth solo record on Cinco De Mayo (May 5th) 2009. The album entitled Outer South contains seventeen tracks and is his second solo release since 1996.
Between 1998 and 2007 Conor Oberst released seven full-length albums with an ever-changing lineup of musicians in a band known as Bright Eyes. Overtime Bright Eyes evolved from lo-fi acoustic folk guitar music recorded on an eight-track recorder to a symphony/orchestral arrangement that was fully recorded and polished in a professional studio.
In Early 2008 Oberst gathered musicians Nik Freitas (guitar), Taylor Hollingsworth(guitar), Macey Taylor (bass) Nate Walcott (keyboard and organ) and Jason Boesel (drums) to form a backing band for him and traveled to Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico to record a solo album. The band was named "The Mystic Valley Band" after the Valle de Mistico, which was near their location. While in Mexico they built a small recording studio in a cave and recorded their first album (Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band) during the two months that they lived there. Due to their location being in a cave, the music was stripped down, thus forcing the music to retain somewhat of a simpler sound, which was what Oberst intended. The first album featured him doing all of the vocals to each track and he wrote all of the songs. The album was released on August 6th 2008 on Merge.
The second release of Conors' that features the Mystic Valley band is set up in an entirely different format than any of his other solo releases. Several tracks on the album are actually written and sung by his band mates and it showcases their talents as well. While the majority of the songs are still sung and written by Conor, seven out of sixteen aren't, and it adds to create a completely different kind of album.
Due to the different band members singing and playing their own songs, the album doesn't really feel like Oberst's project, but a compilation of different musicians playing on an album. The album starts with the upbeat and fun folk rock tune of "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)" and transfers to the more mellow song "To All the Lights in the Wind" which focuses on religion and seriousness. The transition works well, but is broken badly by Nik Freitas performing one of his songs on the album (Big Black Nothing). It's as if you start to get used to Conor's voice and a different singer pops up out of nowhere and forces the album to feel like a mix CD. The other singer's songs aren't bad, they just don't seem to fit anywhere and make the album feel sloppy. The album should definitely be viewed song by song as opposed to one whole piece of music.
Some songs on the album make up completely for the terrible layout of it all. The politically charged "Roosevelt Room" is reason alone to purchase the album when it hits stores. The heavier rock flow of the track combined with the bluntness of the lyrics ("There's no blankets for the winter, there's no oil in the lamp, I'd like to write my congressman but I can't afford the stamp.") makes this one of the diamonds in the rough.
On November 11th 2008, the band performed the eighth track on the album "Nikorette" on Conan O'Brian. The song isn't as deep and emotionally driven as some of the others but it showcases the diversity that the album consists. Overall the track is a fun jam that you can rock out to and enjoy the simplistic vibe of the lyrics (I'm just trying to stay a human being, sitting in the sun eating ice cream.").
One of the best songs on the album is "Eagle on a Pole" by Jason Boesel. The song has a slower feel to it and it shapes up to be an amazing folk rock song. But once again it is hard to realize its beauty when completely different sounding songs surround it.
The slow, emotion driven "White Shoes" (which is obviously a nod to fellow musician Emmylou Harris, whom Conor has previously collaborated with) showcases the depressed side of Conor Oberst as he plays it with a shaky sad voice and a lone acoustic guitar. The lyrics are enough to make anyone's eyes water as he practically begs for the woman he loves to be with him and that no matter what she wants to do in life it's ok with him. The feeling is utterly removed though when the next track "Bloodline" chimes in and is played upbeat and peppy. There is no transition whatsoever.
The album itself is amazing and lacking at the same time. There are so many solid tracks on the album but the flow is a complete mess. If the songs were arranged differently it would create a better experience for the album to be listened to as a whole, but from where the tracks just don't fit together it feels more like a compilation album than an actual album by an artist. In no way is this release an actual "solo" record, but a showcase of five different artists on one album. If you view it that way instead of as a whole, it makes the release much better and way more enjoyable.