A troubadour whose time has come

    With a flourishing record label and no less than five critically acclaimed albums under his belt, Conor Oberst is dancing on the brink of stardom. Songwriter and bandleader of a rotating collection of musicians collectively called Bright Eyes, Oberst has risen from indie wunderkind to the “next big thing” in music these days. Perhaps it was his role in the Vote for Change tour, where Bright Eyes shared the stage with legends Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M., or Oberst’s stint as concubine for Winona Ryder; regardless, the 24-year-old is, at the least, a big thing. Far more importantly, he’s the real thing.

    Oberst fits many precarious adjectives: neurotic, clumsy, insecure, vain, romantic and often melodramatic. His quavering voice and oddly phrased, occasionally brilliant lyrics are some of his trademarks, but far more memorable is his intense passion, which forges an empathetic connection with the listener, creating moods and emotions as intense as the experiences he describes. Possessing an eerily piercing gaze and a “more-emo-than-emo” fashion sense, Oberst writes songs that are the apotheosis of music that makes one feel emotions in a way that encompasses a myriad range of human feeling, from happiness to loneliness and everything in between.

    Bright Eyes’ dual album release in January was a watershed moment for Oberst, with the clumsily beautiful alt-country I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and the guitar-rock-band-based Digital Ash in a Digital Urn heralded by glowing reviews from the mainstream and independent press alike. Bright Eyes, however, have been creating top-quality albums for years; 1998’s Letting Off the Happiness, recorded by a still-teenage Oberst along with musicians from Neutral Milk Hotel, among other bands, with its believability and maturity. Oberst’s then-fledgling record label, Saddle Creek, released Fevers And Mirrors in 2000. The inspiration for the name of the label came from his hometown of Omaha, Neb. With carefully precious beauty and raw, if purposefully melodramatic, emotion, the album was a cohesive and impressive work, weaving tales about loneliness and self-examination, creating characters as pathetic and compelling as Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” narrator and ending with an existentialist radio interview freak-out in the style of David Lynch that was both creepy and self-aware. The next album, Lifted … Or, The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, arrived in 2002, when Oberst was only 22. Lifted made most reputable magazines’ “Best of 2002” lists, and deservedly so. Developing a more country-flavored sound, Oberst expanded upon the raw emotion of past albums, penning woefully sad-yet-brilliant folk songs (“You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will.”), precious and innocent baroque pop songs (“Bowl Of Oranges”), and joyous sing-along barnstormers about politics, natural beauty and life (“Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)”). Compared to the body of his work, Lifted is arguably the pinnacle of Oberst’s musical genius. The most recent albums, however, seem to be the more immediate, consumer-flavored harbingers of Bright Eyes’ future conquest of the mainstream.

    People will call Oberst “the next Bob Dylan.” Truly, just as the words of Dylan weave tales that seem real and surreal, yet imminently memorable, the lyrics of the young Oberst, combined with his piercingly passionate delivery, recreate moments in Oberst’s life, baring the soul of a man torn between innocence and wickedness, stardom and shyness, depression and joy. However, unlike the gravel-voiced legend, Oberst is only now, well into his career, becoming a political voice as well as an artistic one. His passionate delivery is perfectly suited to political songs, as in his free iTunes store single, “When The President Talks to God,” where Oberst clumsily asks, “Does he ask to rape our women’s rights/ And send poor farm kids off to die/ Does God suggest an oil hike/ When the president talks to God?”

    Oberst can never be the next Bob Dylan, but he’s already the first Conor Oberst.

    Bright Eyes will perform at Spreckels theater Feb. 11

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal