Does Oberst live up to the hype? Absolutely. His indie-rock twenty-something charisma may be a bit pretentious for some and his calculated art-rock restfulness may be matched only by David Byrne, but Oberst is a visionary songwriter. Lyrically ambitious as Dylan seen through the legacious filter of bands like Pavement, the Pixies and Sebadoh, fans love him for his angst filled voice, his tortured ballads of love and torment, his deliberate woundedness, the way he wears his hair and his high cheek bones. Oberst’s profile is surging. He appeared alongside with REM and Bruce Springsteen at Philadelphia’s Vote For Change Concert. He has again captured the imagination of the music press with a cover story in a recent Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section. And in a recent Rolling Stone article they crown Oberst “the best young songwriter in America.” That’s a lot of weight to carry.
Two new albums from Oberst show completely different sides to his unique talent. Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is a collection of wondrously executed, self-conscious songs mired in ambience like Radiohead’s Kid A and Brian Eno’s Before And After Science. Both electric and electronica, Digital Urn is a lullabye of earnestness that’s more Robert Smith of The Cure than it is Bob Dylan, a songwriter that Oberst has often been compared to. Digital Ash’s initial iciness warms up a few songs in to the album with the songs “Down In A Rabbit Hole,” “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)” a collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service, and “I Believe In Symmetry.” With its quirky samples, 80’s-like synth sounds and imaginative musical arrangements Digital Ash is Oberst’s rock album that has the most potential to cross him over to new fans.
While Digital Ash is phenomenal, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is even better. A country flavored singer-songwriter album that eschews the traditional clichés of much of the “singer-songwriter” genre as we know it, you can’t listen to this album and think that Oberst is not bringing something new to the genre. Wide Awake was recorded with guests Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, Jesse Harris (among other things, writer of Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why) on guitar, Emmylou Harris, and drummer Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley. The album showcases Oberst’s spellbinding brightness as a songwriter and his lyrical drive is virtually unmatched by any new songwriters out today. Songs like “Train Under Water,” “Another Travelin’ Song,” and “Old Soul Song” are examples of Oberst’s sharpest writing yet showcasing his recurring themes of self-doubt and love.
Written by Bruce Warren
Release Date 1/25/2005
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