I first discovered Conor Oberst when he released I’m Wide Awake (It’s Morning) under the monniker Bright Eyes. It was an album that struck a chord with me, an album that formed me as a teenager. I listened to all his other albums, but started to lose interest when he was trying to be too much Americana. For some reason, he went the same way as Ryan Adams, trying to be something he’s not. But, like Ryan Adams, he’s now chosen to go the same way as he started : a singer songwriter, with his own style. And the world’s a better place for it.
Ruminations is his first album in a while were he has chosen to go completely solo. Just him, singing, playing piano, guitar and the harmonica. It gives him the room to do what he wants, playing songs mostly based on sadness and loneliness. Which he does best. It’s no surprise this album was recorded when he was holed up in Omaha, recovering from exhaustion and anxiety. The whole record oozes loneliness, something Oberst’s voice has always been great at channeling. It’s the sort of record you put on on a snowy day in December, thinking about past mistakes, love you have lost, friends you haven’t seen in a while. But in a comforting way, since it’s always comforting to hear that other people know how you feel.
And that’s what makes this a great record. It’s like the last shot you order, when everyone’s already left the bar. It’s the friend you need when no one is listening. I keep going back to it, cause other people’s misery makes your own less bad. Oberst has been that friend to me for over 10 years, and when he keeps making records like this, he’ll still be that friend for years to come.
My favourite song is You All Loved Him Once. It feels like a bitter letter to an ex, but could also be about any loved one or a fictitious one like Jesus. It sounds like a defeat, but in the best way possible. It’s so vulnerable and sincere, I can keep listening to it.
I think this is a return to form for Oberst. The question is, can he keep this up? Since this is probably more a one-off, like Bon Iver’s first album, I’ll be curious to see if he can continue this momentum. But for now, this will do. A great record, for the lonely winterdays ahead.