Singer-songwriter-guitarist and former Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst recorded his first songs at 13 and was being hailed as the next Bob Dylan before he was 20. He’s one of alt’s lost boys, a guy so tied to his emotions that he’ll forever carry something of his early, neo-emo reputation. Now well into his 30s, Oberst is still something of a Peter Pan figure, equal parts enthusiasm and need. His first recording for the Nonesuch label touches on all the different styles he’s used over the years: folk, rock, Americana. These new tunes, while retaining something of a country flavor, are catchy and well orchestrated with multiple guitars and keyboard effects. Lyrics remain central, and Oberst’s phrases can make guitars weep. Listen to “Double Life.” Oberst is occasionally despondent: “I don’t need my concentration/To know when I’m in pain.” But these days he’s often optimistic: “What a thing to be a witness to sunshine/What a dream to just be walking on the ground.” His voice is still thin, fragile, and wavering, qualities that give it an attractive vulnerability, and the minor keys are where he does his most attractive, most personal work. Oberst is still no Dylan — he’s a clever tunesmith but too self-indulgent — yet he does sing to those among us who, like him, never quite lost our taste for teenage angst.
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