Little Clouds


Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band Outer South Review
April 7, 2009, 8:18 pm
Filed under: review | Tags: ,
Outer South

Outer South

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band- Outer South
My grade: D+

I don’t like giving Conor Oberst bad reviews. I have been a fan of Oberst’s bands for 7 years. I have everything the guy has ever done, and by everything I mean everything, my itunes is loaded with over 700 songs by Conor in all of his bands and incarnations. I’ve seen him nearly twenty times and met him plenty of times too. I don’t want to give his new album “Outer South” a bad review, but it warrants it.

When Cassadega came out I was a little disappointed. After “I’m wide awake..” and “digital ash..” it was a let down. However, looking back, it was really solid, the worst song on it being “Classic Cars” which was boring at best and shitty alt-country at worst. It should’ve been a sign that Conor was headed in a mediocore alt-country direction. His self-titled debut with the Mystic Valley band was heavily disappointing for me. I had listened to bootlegs of most of the songs on the record and they were great. But the album was terrible, it was overproduced and songs that were once pretty stripped down songs were turned into country jams. I don’t hate country, I love gram parsons, johnny cash and the like. I even like some Bright Eyes songs that lend themselves to country, like “Make War” or “Another Travellin’ Song”. But the country music Conor makes now is nothing short of cheesy, pop country with mediocore lyrics.

With “Outer South” I am not disappointed, because I didn’t expect much. From the second I heard the intro to “Slowly (oh so slowly)” a few weeks ago, I knew this album was going to be just as bad, if not worse, then the last album. And it is worse, much, much worse.

Outer South begins with “Slowly (oh so slowly)”, a song I am clearly not very fond of. This is a terrible way to start an album. It makes me long for the soothing intro to “Cape Canaveral”. The next song, “To all the lights in the windows” is pretty good actually, Conor finally made the 70s folk song he had been trying to make since “I’m wide awake”. I mean, by pretty good, it’s not that bad. Nic Frietas’ “Big Black Nothing” is decent, not too bad, but not great either. By this point in the record I had hope. But then I heard “Air Mattress”, the single worst song on this record. It’s trying to be everything at once, and failing miserably. It has a fast synth line, goes into a little bit of surf rock (wtf right?) yet is still country. Taylor Hollingsworth’s vocals are less than appealing and border on just down right annoying. The lyrics may be the most atrocious part of this song, “can I sleep on this air mattress with you?” is the chorus. We get it, you guys like to travel, but making a love song about sleeping on an air mattress isn’t cute it’s just stupid.

Other songs on this record teeter on being the worst song too. In fact, “Air Mattress” is kind of the turning point for this record, the rest of the songs are pretty much all alt-country jams that sound like each other. “Spoiled” is absolutely awful. It’s like “Arc of Time” (From digital ash) meets margaritaville meets pop country. It has the same point as a lot of older bright eyes songs. “You’ve got everything you want but you’re still down” is the kind of lyric that could’ve fit on “Fever and Mirrors”, however it’s ruined by the tropical beat and cheesy guitar. “Nikorette” is another cheesy country song, the only thing that makes it decent is when Nic Frietas sings in the chorus for a few seconds. “Eagle on Pole”, not to be confused with the much better “Eagle on a Pole” on the last album, seems like it’s trying to be fleetwood mac or something. I like fleetwood mac- but I don’t like this song. It’s chorus is “Never trust an eagle on a pole”. Need I say more? The most angering song to me on this record is “I Got The Reason”, I’ve heard this song live and it was really beautiful. This song begins pretty enough, but then there is an ultra-dramatic breakdown and it turns into a alt-country jam session.

“Ten Women” is a lovely song, the reason why it’s so good is because it’s stripped down. There is no overproducing, no dramatic bridges, no breakdowns and no organ solos. The lyrics are a little weak, but then again that’s true for the rest of the album. “Roosevelt Room” is another high point, with politically charged lyrics. Oberst screams “And the working poor you’ve been shitting on are doing shifts tonight!” like he really means it. It has the kind of passion that a previous Bright Eyes record would be chalk full of and that this album is missing entirely. “White Shoes” is the best of album, another song I heard live, the only thing that deters from the stripped down bare prettiness of this song is the vocal distortion.

There is no relevance to this record. Each song seems randomly placed in a string of random songs. The lyrical themes of conor past are gone. The symbolism of conor past is gone. The meaning behind each lyric of conor past is gone. This album feels like a collection songs they recorded too quickly and with no clear direction.

My advice for Oberst is to not let his other band members write or sing songs on his records. Other than the first Frietas songs his comrades don’t serve as much of a utility. He also needs to stop overproducing and overdoing songs that are much better stripped down. They need to try less to be a “rocking” country band and keep the songs simple. Oberst has made a career of not keeping things simple, and for the most part, succeeded, take “Lifted..” for example. But having a full orchestra is a lot different then forcing a breakdown and silly guitar solos on every song.

Ofcourse artists change, no one is expecting Oberst to be singing lovesick songs anymore, he’s nearly 30 years old. However, nothing has really changed since his last album, expect that he is getting more and more into generic alt-country that is now bleeding into straight up pop-country. While the beginning of “Laura Laurent” can recall the beginning of a Gram Parson’s song, the beginning of this record sounds like the beginning of a Keith Urban record, something I never thought I’d say 7 years ago.

Outer South will be out on Merge Records on May 5th, 2009. You can stream it now at mergerecords.com

-marissa malouff

p.s. for a more detailed, sillier, worse written review of the album look at my track by track review below!

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5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’m curious about how this album is being received by other music critics and what, if any, motivation and theme there is to it. What’s the purpose of this album? I’d love to hear your insight on that because I like your filter 🙂

Comment by Rochelle

i realized after your comment that those things are missing in my review. I now address them. thanks for the advice 🙂

Comment by littlehappyclouds

Thanks for checking out my review! Thought I’d return the favor. I like the Keith Urban reference, haha.

Comment by Ashley

Marissa, Thanks for your insight on this album. I, too, am a huge Conor Oberst fan and my library is also filled with his tunes. I did thoroughly enjoy the 1st MVB album, but I have to totally agree with you on this one. I understand Conor’s desire to spread the wealth and let everyone have a stab, but his utter genius completely overshadows the mediocrity of his bandmate’s abilities to write stellar music. What do you think of his new album with Monsters of Folk?

Comment by Laura

I love it, i think it’s a great album. What do you think?

Comment by littlehappyclouds




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