Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

Rating: ★★★★½

When it was announced that Conor Oberst would be stepping off Saddle Creek for a little bit, I was a bit taken aback; I expected a huge step away from his traditional sound. In some respects, the departure has changed the overall sound, but at the heart of this album is Conor Oberst at his best–ever.

Immediately upon first listen, the change is apparent. The string arrangements, and other effects of long-time producer Mike Mogis have disappeared. For me, it works to the benefit of Conor, because it establishes his voice as the focal point. Sure, in the past, that might have been a bad sign, but he clearly has control over his voice here; his voice sounds stronger than ever. And, in all honesty, I thought the grandiose arrangements on his previous albums got a little over-indulgent–ruining some songs.

However, this new album is listenable the whole way through. I struggled to find a song that I didn’t want to focus on for a moment of time; going back through most songs a dozen or so times before sitting down to write about it. Using headphones will definitely make your listening experience a great deal better, for there are some little nuances in this recording that really open up the album to the listener. The approach of this album seems to be a bedroom approach, which makes the entirety of this album more personable–although I hear it was more of a front porch recording in a quaint town of Mexico.

Lyrically, he continues to get better as he ages. He goes from first person to third person within songs, but all the while holding on to general themes and ideas. A lot of people will probably look to the subject matter, and his continual growth with mystical ideas, but the writing in general just keeps improving. Sure, you can take away some points for his simpleton Spanish where he mutters “El cielo es azul,” during “Eagle on a Pole,” but I suppose the mood struck him. He does it several more times as well.

If there is a fault in this album it might be the inclusion of “NYC-Gone Gone.” It doesn’t add much to the story of the album, but I’m just a listener. Also, there aren’t any standout tracks. For me, this means that the album is extremely even, which I think is good, but some people always want a single. This album suffices without one. Perfect.

Can I just add, that despite the turnout, I applaud Conor for disappearing off to remote locations to record his latest albums, as if Omaha wasn’t enough. I think it adds to the stories he tells, and the feeling of the albums, which, in this case, is extremely beneficial.

Don’t forget he will be playing with his new band at Austin City Limits this year. The man commands a stage well. Watch for yourself.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

I know I’m a little bit late with this review, since other people have already fueled the career of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, but I feel like I have to encourage this even more so.

Much has been said about the singer/songwriter’s difficult past, and a few touch on his TV on the Radio/Grizzly Bear connections. I want to focus on the strength of his debut self-titled album.

As a fan of music, this is exactly what you want a debut album to be. You want to see a lot of promise, and you sort of want to see a weak spot or two; a weak spot shows that there is more to be improved upon; a hopeful glance into the future.

I expected this to be sort of a folk record, dominated by acoustic guitars and gentle vocals. From the opening track, “Buriedfed,” you can tell that this is not the case. It starts off gently, as many of the songs do, but then the song picks up with percussion, and the vocals really can stand alone. His voice is somewhere along the lines of a warble, but at the same time, there is a certain assuredness in its delivery. Imagine Conor Oberst if he used to sing hardcore tunes.

There is a lot of loss going on in this album, lyrically. It’s clear that MBAR has had some rough times, and he definitely uses that for his songs. The sad thing, and I don’t know if it is a personal reference or not, but a lot of the album questions the purpose of living, which I know can only come from a person who has truly been in that position. Its got a touch of tragedy, but you want to route for the man. My own personal reference reminds me of Eliott Smith, and his way of connecting you to his life trials–MBAR does the same.

For some reason, this album is really hard to put into exact words. It feels really new, or at least the approach comes from somewhere else. The album comes across really dirty in a certain sense; there is a certain sound developed in this man’s songwriting that makes you go into the the darkness with him. Each turn the album takes allows you follow willingly, which you will.

With lines like “Fuck you, I just wanted to die,” I worry about MBAR, even if he is writing from an omniscient perspective. This man has some demons, but music fans know that this often creates some of the more powerful tunes. Hopefully he has his act cleaned up, and we can look forward to more great releases from him in the future.

Check out a new song called “Buriedfed” by Miles right here:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/buriedfed.mp3]

Download: Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed [MP3]

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