Conor Oberst: Ruminations

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(Photo by Julia Brokaw – vulture.com)

Meghan Mahar

Conor Oberst has had his share of struggles, but he is completely unafraid to share these experiences with the world. Oberst’s tenth solo album Ruminations echoes the stories of his troubled past of addiction, loss, and pain.

Ruminations delicately balances raw, delicate folk and heavy subject matter. Oberst is alone in every aspect; he is abandoned and lost, but only Oberst and his three instruments create this sense of isolation.

Oberst is no stranger to the music industry;  he has over twenty three years of experience. This experience shows through his craft, however. Ruminations is a minimalistic testimony to the artist’s life, and it covers a wide range of topics and events with depth. His debut album was released on a cassette tape, and he has since collaborated with bands such as Desaparecidos and Bright Eyes. He draws influences from artists like R.E.M. and The Cure. The combination of his interests and talents creates a truly unique sound.

The first track “Tachycardia” stays true to Oberst’s folk style. Harmonicas that ordinarily bring cheerful energy instead break up somber verses about Oberst’s struggles with substances and anxiety.  

Oberst feels that he is “a stone’s throw from everyone I love and know”– these emotions pour out not only through his lyrics, but his his powerful, yet wavering voice.

Love is a driving force throughout Ruminations that, despite the adversity in Oberst’s life, ultimately keeps him going. Oberst is pained by past and present chaos, but believes that it will bring him back to love again. Oberst and his piano pay tribute to his wife in

“The Rain Follows the Plow”– he claims that “No matter where I went, I mean to make my way back here”.

The album concludes with “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”, a ballad named after the patron saint of mental illness and emotional distress. Though the song is sad, it ends the album on a note of optimism and hope. Oberst acknowledges that his struggles are shared and that he is not alone;  he realized that “The blues is here to stay /  

But sometimes it’s the simple things that make it all okay”.  

Ruminations is a journey of Oberst’s self-analysis that is not for the faint of heart. It is a musically simplistic style with complex lyrics, and it creates a carefully constructed story. The story still isn’t over though; Oberst proves that he will continue to persist and use his gifts for as long as time will allow him to do so.