Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band
Cat's Cradle—In 2004, Conor Oberst released two records with Bright Eyes, the solo project he'd started as a teenager that gradually grew into one of the most successful independent bands in America. Those two records—Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning—offered Oberst's charged words in dichotomy: Digital Ash was the more experimental, glitch-heavy, dark-wave set, while I'm Wide Awake folded backing-vocal matriarch Emmylou Harris and a Beethoven interpolation into a polished folk monument. Digital Ash received lukewarm reception from critics and fans alike, while I'm Wide Awake—with its scenes of wartime tenderness and feelings of infinitesimal individual power sung over a comfortable return to Americana basics—greatly expanded his audience.
Ever since, Oberst's records have been carefully played continuations of that meme, forgoing much of the lo-fi and discursive idiosyncrasies that had long been associated with his tense, fragile warble. Conor Oberst—his first album under his own name since he was 16 and he made his debut for Merge Records—continues that tradition. Recording earlier this year in a mountain villa near Tepoztlán, Morelos, México, its dozen songs offer alternate takes of bucolic country shuffle, anthemic indie eruption and serene acoustic introspection. It's classic Oberst in the most clinical sense, mixing big misses ("Eagle on a Pole") with lines so poignant you'll imagine you're seeing some great truth for the first time: "I watched your face age backwards, changing shape in my memory," he sings on "Cape Canaveral." "You taught me victory is sweet, even in the cheap seats." It's hard to imagine nostalgia coming so strong from someone still so young, but Oberst, now 28, has never looked a likely hero, even though he's often been one. With Evangelicals and I Was Totally Destroying It at 9 p.m. for $25. —Grayson Currin