February 15, 2010
Trying to pin down an artist who has twenty-odd albums (with eight or so bands) and the founding of two record labels behind him by age 30, feels as muddled as some of CONOR OBERST’s (born 1980) less successful efforts. Most associated with the uneven folk-rock brilliance of Bright Eyes, it’s his brief but earnest work as frontman for Desaparecidos that really makes your sweet meats want to dance. A quaveringly convulsed hymn to the war in Iraq, the disappearing middle class, Omaha, consumerism, and the housing bubble, Desaparecidos’ Read Music Speak Spanish (2002) would have kicked America in the nuts if anyone had been listening. “I got a letter from the Army, So I think that I’ll enlist, I’m not brave or proud of nothing, I just want to kill something” pretty much summed up a large slice of views on the US presence in Iraq. More recently, Oberst made big news singing the bitter, despondent “When the President Talks to God” — which might not be Neil Young’s “Ohio,” but came as close as anything to expressing the hopeless confusion that so many people of faith felt in the face of George W. Bush’s musclebound Christianity. As Oberst seems to be returning to the quieter genius of his folk/country roots, it is his head-on collision with consumer society’s mutated yearning in a bulldozed Midwest (“So send the National Guard, to the Mall of America”) that will sustain us.
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