KUMD Album Review: Ruminations

Oct 26, 2016

Conor Oberst | Ruminations

The leaves have turned and in that Duluth wind whispers a certain change. The crisp leaves will soon give way to even crisper, icy mornings. Fear not, Northerners; where layers of sweaters and wool socks fail to wrap snugly, Conor Oberst’s new album, Ruminations, will be sure to blanket every listener in warmth. Oberst’s smooth vocals with a slight twang glide over the piano and guitar with various lapses into Bob Dylan-esque harmonica affairs.

A glimmering loneliness haunts the vocals on Oberst’s newest release. Really, what’s expected when the album was birthed straight out of an Omaha winter within 48 hours? After a health scare that led the Bright Eyes singer to furiously dig through his consciousness from being shown the dark edge of life comes an intimate letter to self.

“Counting Sheep” directly addresses Oberst’s step back from the spotlight and into the fluorescent hospital halls where he received treatment for a cyst on his brain as well as his ongoing battle with anxiety: “Life is a gas, what can you do? Catheter piss, fed through a tube, cyst on the brain, blood on the bamboo.” Ruminations screams raw: raw composition, raw lyrics, and utterly raw with emotion.

Like any good folk tale, Oberst refers to historical American figures from John Muir to Ronald Reagan in his candid narrative. In “A Little Uncanny” the singer-songwriter builds pedestals for these figures then tears them down in the same stanza of appraisal. “He impressed everyone he thought trial by fire was America's fate. He made a joke of the poor people and that made him a saint.” Fitting to his poetic nature, “You All Loved Him Once” mirrors the same use of polarizing lyrics, only this time it seems to be aimed inward, “You all loved him once, not without cause, you all loved him once, now he is gone.”

The straightforward, confessional delivery of Ruminations can leave a bad taste in your mouth, but true to his nature, Oberst closes the album with an invitation to wash it all down with a drink of choice, “if you’re gonna talk like that, at least buy another round and we can keep drinking till St. Dymphna kicks us out.”

Ruminations rings true to its name, guaranteed to leave a listener or two pondering Oberst’s work, the album’s overtones of loneliness is sure to rally folks together in the coming winter weather.

Catch the record performed in its entirety on the artist’s website: