This week’s reviews: Conor Oberst & The Black Keys

Conor Oberst has been releasing consistently good albums for years as part of Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk and under the pseudonym Bright Eyes and his own name. The latest album Upside Down Mountain is another enjoyable one. As with his most recent albums, this one is influenced by country-twang. There are themes of nostalgia. He still seems unsure about this troubled life. But there are elements of being a mature singer-songwriter (ala Cat Stevens or Neil Young).

There are some slow-strumming classics, like “Common Knowledge,” “Artifact #1,” and “Lonely at the Top.” Bright Eyes fans will particularly enjoy “You are Your Mother’s Child.” And there are upbeat songs like “Zigzagging Toward the Light,” “Desert Island Questionnaire” and “Kick.”

With each release, some of Conor’s rawness melts away. Each album is more accessible. For those people who tried to listen to Conor as Bright Eyes and did not get it, these latest self-titled albums are a gateway into Conor-Fandom. It is easy to dive right in.

(Upside Down Mountain will be released May 19th. It is currently streaming on NPR First Listen.)

The latest Black Keys album, Turn Blue, was hyped up for a variety of reasons. For one, The Black Keys developed a signature style of blues rock. The duo from Akron, Ohio made a retro aesthetic modern.

Another reason for the hype is the band’s general crossover potential. From movies to commercials, their songs show up across a variety of mediums. Love it or hate it, the band displayed a knack for releasing catchy singles. But with the new album and, to a lesser extent 2011’s El Camino, something changed.

Recently, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach spoke to Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition. In the interview, Carney talked about the difference between the sound of the old material and the new releases. “It was about disguising the bad fidelity with distortion,” he said, when describing the old material.

From my perspective, it was this “cheap sound” that made the band interesting. And in the latest album, Turn Blue, so much of their charm is gone. 2 listens on iTunes First Listen were all I cared to take.

I will always love 2004’s Rubber Factory and 2008’s Attack and Release . But as far as new albums, I will wait for a moment when the distortion, fuzz, and raw music comes back.  True Blue just does not stand up to the pre-2010 releases (or the pre-2010 vibe of the band).


One response to “This week’s reviews: Conor Oberst & The Black Keys

  1. Pingback: A Look Back at 2014: Top 10 Albums of the Year | borrowed nostalgia·

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