So today I was at work cleaning up some clutter and I found this half page that had been torn out of a newspaper with a large picture of Conor Oberst. Now, this might not sound that weird, except I work construction. I would say that maybe 70% of the guys that work on the site speak only polish and listen to the Prodigy. The rest of them all seem to listen to top 40 radio or spanish music. So it's kind of odd that someone would tear out a big picture of Oberst and just leave it in this side room for a couple months. Naturally, I took this as a sign from God that I should be posting on Cigar Box Guitars about Bright Eyes.
"Green Hornet, I need you to force your opinions
about Conor Oberst onto the unwilling masses.
They have much to learn."
Well, I can't ignore God, So here we are. I wanna start off by saying that I put Conor Oberst in the same category as Dave Matthews, that of artists who are wildly overrated and wildly underrated simultaneously. Both of these guys have their fans who will pop boners for literally everything they do and who will hail them as musical geniuses and legends in our own time. Both men also have extremely dedicated "haters" as it were, folks who will refuse to budge in their opinion that everything the man has touched is crap. Both groups are a bit off, in my not so humble opinion.
Oberst's lyrics tend to be hit or miss. At times, he's a very clever storyteller. A great example here is the song "Lua" off of I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, his folk album centered around a trip to New York City. Lua paints the listener a pretty little picture about cocaine addiction (a favorite subject of the skinny little bastard's), loneliness, and the ladies. The song is somewhat reminiscent of Elliott Smith, with its quiet guitar playing and half whispered singing, but since when is being like Elliott Smith a bad thing? Since never, that's when.
"Lua" by Bright Eyes
At other times, Oberst's storytelling takes dives into the obnoxiously mellodramatic. Case in point, a little ditty called, "It's Cool, We Can Still Be Friends" off of the compilation Transmission One: Tea at the Palaz of Hoon. The song starts off fine enough, with a chap lamenting the weird frustrating relationship he has with his ex-girlfriend. Towards the end of the song, however, Oberst just falls so deep into sloppy mellodrama that it becomes unbearable. Screamed lines like "yeah I'm pouring myself some whiskey, I'm going to get really fucking drunk... so drunk that I pass out, forget your face by the time I wake up" just blow any artistic integrity he may or may not have achieved in the song up to that point. Showing emotion in a song is good. Being a weepy little bitch on a song does you no good and will only make it hard on the people who enjoy your good songs.
"It's Cool We Can Still Be Friends" by Bright Eyes
That's not to say that everything falls to shit everytime Oberst starts screaming. Certain songs have well placed yelping that help create good sonic dynamics. A good example here would be "The City has Sex" off of Letting Off The Happiness. Oberst's screams slam the listener right into the chorus unexpectedly, then drop off before you even realize what happened. The entire song sounds frantic and his screaming also helps reinforce that mood.
"The City has Sex" by Bright Eyes
Sometimes Oberst screams for the whole song and it's awesome. I never got into his side project Desaparecidos as much as Bright Eyes, but "Manana" is a rocking good time. Here he employs more of an "ahhhhhhh we're rocking" scream than an "ahhhhhhhh I'm so hurt on the inside" scream.
"Manana" by Desaparecidos
My one final note on Mr. Oberst is that I want to see him do more than folky indie rock. I read in an interview that he really enjoys MF Doom and Pete Rock as both producers and rappers. If you listen to the song "Arc of Time" off of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, there's an obvious hip hop influence. This is the best produced song on the album, hands down. The beat is just so incredibly tight, there's no other way to describe it. After hearing that song, I really would love to hear him produce some beats for someone to rap over. I really can't even imagine who'd be a good match for him, since I have little idea what his beats would sound like, but I'm sure there must be at least one rapper out there who'd be down.
"Arc of Time" by Bright Eyes
it could happen.