Conor Oberst is not a soft touch. He’s capable of releasing blatant, vitriolic sadness with an impassioned self-conscious wail. And it was good, really good. But perhaps as he’s aged (he’ll be 30 next year) he’s finding that softness is a virtue. How else to explain Outer South, the new record from Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band? This collection of classic rock/pop songs finds Oberst displaying uncharacteristically stable, measured vocals, and the two best songs on this record aren’t even Oberst compositions—guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth contributed the irresistibly giddy pop confectionary “Air Mattress,” and guitarist Nik Freitas threw down “Big Black Nothing,” a rambling, overcast ode to melancholia. You can’t go wrong with either song, but the rest of the record is hit or miss. If maturity is the culprit, obviously I can’t fault Oberst for that. But on songs like “Ten Women” (pretty, but dull) it feels like maturation almost to the point of being boring. This isn’t terrible, but Conor Oberst can do better.
Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band will be at the 40 Watt on July 21.
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