Note: This is the first album credited to Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band (i.e. the group of musicians that played on Conor’s 2008 self-titled album and have been touring with him for the past year). The big difference between this full-length and last year’s release is that his bandmates write and sing lead vocals on nearly half the songs, a drastic difference from any of Conor’s previous releases as a solo artist or as the mastermind behind Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos.
Sound: Tight, polished, roots rock (riffing electric guitars, strumming acoustic guitars, driving organs, nimble piano and sing-along choruses) with a classic singer/songwriter feel is the most prevalent vibe on here. But there’s also room for some mellow, folky reflections and quirky indie pop.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “Slowly (Oh So Slowly)”; “Nikorette”
Medium Rotation tracks: “Roosevelt Room”; “Ten Women”; “Spoiled”; “Air Mattress”
Recommended: It finally happened. After a decade of releasing one classic album after another (as Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos or as a solo artist), Conor finally put out a mediocre album (note: 2005’s experimental Digital Ash in A Digital Urn was also quite average, but it was released on the same day as the excellent I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning—my #2 album of 2005—so it was pretty easy to dismiss Digital Ash and focus on the perfection of Wide Awake). The biggest problem on Outer South is that Conor’s too democratic. Passing the mic to his bandmates is a nice gesture, but when you’re the premier songwriter of your generation, you can’t expect the quality of their tunes to match yours—and it doesn’t. Half of the Mystic Valley Band’s tracks are pretty decent actually, but the other half are laborious. Plus, Conor’s lyrics often lack the potency we expect from him, perhaps he dialed them down in an effort to let his buddies shine. The end result yields a handful of highlights, but far too many unnecessary tracks. The best part about Outer South is the musicianship. The Mystic Valley Band has developed into an impressive, rockin’ unit.