That is what made the thought of Ruminations so thrilling. Recorded at the commencement of this year back in his hometown of Omaha, the album came as a shock to the artist, not expecting for a winter retreat from New York to result in a new album. although Oberst decided to leave the finished result unadorned, recording the new songs in a frenzy and then leaving them alone in their original form. That type of backstory teases necessity, the type of art that couldn’t be contained, but that’s not truly what we get here.
Instead, Ruminations is merely a retreat from the polish that is characterized his recent result. This could be seen as a throughresponse from the knock on his last several albums as ConorOberst, that the strongest songwriting on individuals records is often muddied by overwrought production. His Bright Eyes buddy and longtime producer Mike Mogis is plenty competent, but functioning as one they have gotten away from what made Oberst so compelling in the initial place: sturdy songs with clever, sad, and affecting lyrics. What Oberst was saying was frequently more interesting than how he said it, folk melodies and the irregular trumpet solo just vessels for an unhinged poet to share a worldview that was really verysingular.
And there are flashes of that on Ruminations. Oberst is top when his guard is down, and this album takes seven songs for that to finally happen. On the third verse of “A Little Uncanny” and directly following, I swear to god, an entire verse and chorus about Ronald Reagan, Oberst laments, “, I miss Oliver Sacks, I miss Christopher Hitchens, I miss Sylvia Plath, I miss poor Robin Williams.” Maybe it is the insertion of “poor” in front of Robin Williams that jolts an added bit of empathy into the sentiment, but the lines that come after take the audience to the necessary next step. “Every night is a flood, Every morning’s a desert,” he continues. “They say a party can kill you, occasionally I wish it would.” It’s vintage Oberst, the right mix of starry-eyed romanticism and steady self-deduction.
This sets the point for another one of the album’s treasures, the somber, solitary “Next of Kin”. On its initial verse, Oberstworks a writing work out that finds him imagining a husband’s notification of his wife’s death, but it is in the second verse that things turn personal. “I spread my anger similar to Agent Orange, I was indiscriminate,” he claims, by digging in with the line, “I met Lou Reed and Patti Smith, it did not make me feel different, I guess I lost all my innocence way too long ago.” Oberst’s current work stress reflections similar like this, but it’s too often in short order. Of course, when he does deliver, it lands like a sledgehammer, which can just as well be a consequence of his withholding the long looks inward that had come up in abundance in his youth.
Ruminations are constantly good, but its greatest crime is that it never acts like it needs to be great. The relieve with which Oberst works is special to hear, but you have to wonder what it would be like if he took three or four years to release acollection, the boy that so effectively shouted at every institution now wrestling with age, the fire after his eyes cooling but still smoldering. “I have never been a good judge of when to call it a night,” Oberst sings on “St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”. On Ruminations, this is both the angel and devil on Oberst’sshoulder.