Conor Oberst - Ruminations

Conor Oberst - Ruminations

Review by Shannon Shumaker

Ruminations, the stripped down new solo release from Conor Oberst may not be upbeat or high energy, but where it lacks in a poppy, full band sound, it makes up for in poetic lyricism and transparent, intimate vocals that remind you why you fell in love with the songwriter to begin with. Written in the winter of 2016 and recorded within the span of 48 hours, Ruminations is a snapshot - a very honest and real reflection of Oberst’s time away from New York and back in his hometown of Omaha. Each track on the album is rather simplistic, featuring Oberst with just his guitar, piano and harmonica, and in no time, you’ll be transported into his world.

The first track, “Tachycardia,” really sets the mood for the entire album, bringing things in with a very empty, simplistic sound. Alongside piano and harmonica, Oberst’s vocals really shine, and right away, the poetic imagery in the lyricism is a driving force behind the song. Most of all, the emotion and realness in Oberst’s voice really hooks you, leaving you longing for more and aching to curl up in bed to wait for winter.

The strong storytelling, imagery and poetry continues in the album’s second track, “Barbary Coast (Later)” and the heartbreaking tale of doomed lovers in “Gossamer Thin.” Three tracks in, and it will be obvious why Oberst chose to record and create Ruminations the way he did. You practically feel as if you are in the room with him, and the result is a very intimate feeling album.

The only downside in the raw, stripped down quality of these songs is that there are no peaks or valleys throughout the album. Emotionally, there may be some highs and lows, but musically, things stay on the same level for the majority of the album. The saving grace comes in simplistic yet beautiful instrumentation and the powerful storytelling in the lyrics. The quiver in Oberst’s vocals and the simple piano are stunning in “The Rain Follows The Plow,” for instance, and “A Little Uncanny” is a standout because of its unpredictability and strong guitar work.

Although a little sleepy and mellow, Ruminations delivers lyrically and vocally. And if you’re worried about the stripped down quality of these songs, go into this album understanding that you’re not going to hear a full band or over the top instrumentation, but instead, some of Oberst’s strongest vocal work and lyrical content to date. Conor Oberst excels at storytelling and evoking emotions on Ruminations, making this album surprisingly powerful.  

Rating: 3.5/5

Listen to "The Rain Follows The Plow"

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