‘Salutations’ – Not a Goodbye
Charlie Kenney | Friday, March 31, 2017
When Conor Oberst left Bright Eyes in 2011, angsty teens, Saddle Creek junkies and indie folk addicts everywhere cried.
Throughout his career, Oberst’s bands revolved around him. Bright Eyes, Commander Venus, The Magnetas, Park Avenue, The Mystic Valley Band and Desaparecidos would not have functioned without Oberst. He was the vocals, the lyrics, the guitar and the face that brought money to their wallets and bodies to their concerts.
These bands were essentially Oberst solo acts under different names, distinct machines with Oberst turning the gears.
Now that Oberst is truly a solo act, he can do much more. His previous bands constrained him to a certain genre. Bright Eyes was known for their indie folk sound, the Desaparecidos for a classic rock and grunge mix and the Mystic Valley Band for a fusion of folk, bluegrass and indie. As a soloist, however, Oberst’s name isn’t associated with a single rhythm or genre. He can be bluegrass, rock, indie, folk, grunge or even emo. He has the sounds of more than 10 projects at his disposal.
Oberst’s recently released album — “Salutations” — draws on all these sounds. The album, released March 17, is a road map of Oberst’s career. It’s his “Greatest Hits” album without a single song from his past. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and a melting pot of genres, but most importantly, it’s uniquely Oberst.
But, as much as the album is Oberst’s potential and genre personified, the music falls flat in one fatal area — novelty. 10 out of the 17 songs adorning the tracklist were previously featured in Oberst’s October 2016 album “Ruminations.” To the well-versed Oberst fan, “Salutations” is a re-release with a seven song EP slapped onto it.
Aside from the repetitiveness of the album, “Salutations” is perhaps Oberst’s most accomplished solo piece yet. It touches on Oberst’s life and thoughts in a way that jerks more tears and pulls more heartstrings than any previous Oberst album.
“Tachycardia,”one of the returning tracks from “Ruminations,” a song about an irregular heartbeat set to the irregular beat of a piano. At the beginning of the song, the effect appears to be nothing more than interesting instrumentation. As the song progresses, however, Oberst reveals that it’s a reflection his own irregular heartbeat, a metaphorical heartbeat that thundered during the false rape allegations of 2014 and the “bad dream” that he had “seven times a week” during the weeks leading up to and during his trial.
His rape allegations aren’t the only prominent life events on the album. On “Next of Kin,” Oberst reflects on a difficult idea — death within a family. The song is most likely the reason why Oberst coupled “Salutations” with “Ruminations.” In November of 2016, just a month after releasing “Ruminations,” Oberst’s brother Matthew died. “Next of Kin” recalls the event, exploring the processes and emotions that accompany the death of a family member. Instead of talking about mourning in a romanticized way, Oberst focuses on “getting so drunk you can’t perform” and feeling like you’re “just a name in a database who must be notified.” Oberst was the drunk performer and the name in a database. The song’s sincere lyrics give listeners rare insights about a sensitive topic.
The other 15 tracks touch on a broad array of topics, reflecting on the patron saint of depression (Saint Dymphna), criticizing the recent presidential election and a detailing Oberst’s high school years. The songs also venture across indie, folk and classic rock genres while maintaining Oberst’s quintessential somber tone.
“Salutations” is emotionally and lyrically exhaustive. The songs, with few exceptions, are consistently passionate, heartbreaking, and chorus free. Oberst wants to make you cry, break your heart, keep you up at night and hesitate before putting him on repeat. That’s what he’s always done, but, this time, he’s doing it on his own.
Artist: Conor Oberst
Label: Nonesuch Records
Favorite Tracks: “A Little Uncanny,” “Tachycardia,” “Too Late to Fixate”
If you like: Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, M. Ward