Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South

January 01, 1970

(Merge)

 

www.mergerecords.com

 

Conor Oberst loves America, but not in the way that
George W. Bush, Kid Rock or any other gun-toting, rhetoric-spewing politico
might. Instead, Oberst embraces America
and all it stands for as Bob Dylan, Neil Young or any other calmly amorous
legend would, crafting 16 songs with the Mystic Valley Band on Outer South that reach back into the
folk of the past and grasp to the indie of the present to paint a portrait of
what Americana
can be.

 

While Outer South doesn’t
succeed on all fronts -it should feel like a cohesive, poignant lament of
failed relationship, but tracks often blur together and keep the album from
making a real impact – Oberst uses that hauntingly Dylan-esque voice of his to great
effect. He paints a dreary, lovelorn existence, focusing on things as minute as
wanting to share an air mattress with the object of his affection (“And even
there was a king-size bed/ Where I can stretch my legs and lie my head … Just
know, that no matter what the options are/ I choose/ The air mattress with you”
from “Air Mattress”) to handling the stress of juggling different women at once
while pining for his true love (“I want you the same/ It will be like it’s
been/ If you come home again/ With ten women/ Who have all gone away” from “Ten
Women”).

 

And sprinkled in between all that romance talk are musings
on isolation and abandonment (prime example: “Yes, it feels scary to be
ordinary/ In a world that don’t know your name/ It would not be weird if I just
disappeared” from “Bloodline”), all set to the fuzzy, blurry sounds of
meandering electric guitars or the faster-paced, guitar-picking knee-bouncers
that define most of the album.

 

Yet of the plethora of tracks, some definitely get lost in
the mix – for example, “Nikorette” and “White Shoes” are utterly forgettable –
and the album’s best, “Big Black Nothing,” doesn’t even come from Oberst.
Instead, it’s courtesy of singer-songwriter Nik Freitas, a singer-songwriter in
his own right who plays guitar with the Mystic Valley Band on the album. The
song is the catchiest on Outer South,
using keyboards, hand-claps and a steadily building paranoia and fear of the
“big black nothing” to get its message across: “Sing me something/ Something I
can feel/ Sing it louder/ The whole world has to hear,” Freitas urges.

 

Thankfully, though, Oberst holds his own on “To All the
Lights in the Windows,” the album’s other most solid track. Kind of like that
scene from Say Anything but set to
music, Oberst goes between wishing the woman who left him will be erased from his
memories forever to hoping she stays safe to dreaming of her moving past her
own misery. Probably the closest thing to a straightforward love song that Outer South offers, “To All the Lights
in the Windows” walks the fine line between sentimental and depressing and succeeds
by veering into both (“But there is nothing impossible/ When I’m with you and
when you’re with me/ I got a sad sinking feeling/ That that can never be,”
Oberst admits).

 

Overall, the album’s 16 tracks drag on too long to create a
flawless whole, but for what Oberst’s trying to accomplish – this whole
Americana revival thing – it’s not half-bad. Literally.

 

Standout tracks:
“Bloodline,” “Big Black Nothing,” “To All the Lights in the Windows” ROXANA
HADADI

 

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