What's in a name? If you're indie rocks most emo-centric pusher of pouty, acoustic poetry, plenty...especially considering this release marks the first time in thirteen years Conor Oberst hasn't hid behind any trusty monikers (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, Commander Venus). Free of pseudonyms, this self titled affair should, by definition, come detached from the puppet master's strings. Honest, stripped down, a piece of meat ready for your consumption; Oberst tears the doors off the closet here. Except, he has always done that with his various projects, so what exactly is the point?
Identity...listeners expectations of who Oberst is on albums like Letting off the Happiness, Fevers and Mirrors, and Lifted vs. the man he is today: that is what ultimately sets this record apart from any other. And if you're one who's held captive by the mope and dope songwriting of his formative years, prepare to be a bit disappointed. Conor is changing...Conor is growing up. Where once he was obsessed with self deprecation, now he's a little more in tune with nature (I watched the waterfall pour crazy symbols of my destiny - "Cape Canaveral"), a lot more appreciative of that which has been his saving grace (Theres nothing that the road can not heal - "Moab"), and now, more than ever, willing to give his life a real honest go (I keep death on my mind like a heavy crown. If I go to heaven Ill be bored as hell - "Milk Thistle"). Most importantly, Oberst sounds at peace with past mistakes. Check out his passing, almost comical nod to the time he nearly binged himself to death. "I Dont Want to Die" (in a hospital), is a swinging, country romp; a fun song, making light of the time he almost bit the big one in a Chicago hospital.
All and all, the album is a rather suprising, carefree kind of listen. Sure, there are still a few Debbie downers to be had ("Eagle on a Pole", "Lenders in the Temple"). But for the most part, Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band wax poetic about beach bumming down in Mexico ("Get-Well-Cards") and living out their days on a house boats ("Sausalito"). Oh...and all this plays out to an American tradition of rock that more closely resembles Tom Petty than Bob Dylan. - david pitz