Conor Oberst released the second album with his viciously political hardcore band Desaparecidos last year, and it was as fuelled by discontent as its 2002 predecessor. The album showed a remaining fire in the Bright Eyes man.
‘Ruminations’ feels like a comedown as such. His first solo album since 2014 ‘Upside Down Mountain’ features only Oberst, a piano, an acoustic guitar and the occasional flash of harmonica. It’s possibly his most reflective, nostalgic work yet.
Stripping everything back to such a basic set-up reveals Oberst to still be one of America’s most affecting songwriters, and it’s an album that gives him room to look back on a career that’s come with ambitions much larger than those of ‘Ruminations’.
There’s none of the bright breeziness of Bright Eyes here, ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’’s revolutionary gusto feeling miles away, but the melancholy that sweeps through the record doesn’t feel tired - it’s a sideward step that Oberst more than deserves to take. “It would take a time machine to fulfil all of my dreams,” he sings on ‘Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)’, but Oberst doesn’t come across as bitter and filled with regret, something tenth solo album could’ve easily become.
On ‘Next of Kin’, he sings of meeting Lou Reed and Patti Smith - “it didn’t make me feel different” - a slightly jaded interlude in an album that largely looks over its shoulder with a smile.
‘Ruminations’ could easily feel like an ending for Conor Oberst, and makes it difficult to remember that he’s still only 36. There’s inevitably plenty more thunder left in him, but these ten beautifully crafted examples of his bare bones more than earn their place in his world.