Album Reviews: Conor Oberst, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Baths

Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst- Upside Down Mountain

Release Date: 05/19/2013

Grade: B+

In 1998 Conor Oberst was releasing his second album under the moniker of Bright Eyes entitled Letting Off the Happiness, where the opening track “If Winter Ends” triumphantly sings the lyrics “Because if I can’t learn to make myself feel better/ How can I expect anyone else to give a shit“. Oberst was an 18 year old when he sang those lines, and he became a folk-hero for an audience of validation-starved listeners because of how he seemed to be capable of articulating their problems into his music time and time again. But in the present Bright Eyes is over (at least for the moment) and Oberst is a thirty-four year old man who has become a lot more comfortable with himself in his music. Consider that the single of the album “Hundreds of Ways” carries the chorus of how “There are hundreds of ways/ To get through the day/ Just find one“. It’s similar to Modest Mouse’s “Float on Moment” in how odd it sounds compared to the earlier work which led to this point, but another shared similarity is that this oddity doesn’t necessarily contradict itself. Oberst has grown as an artist since he was a kid and now leans closer to a traditional folk and country cross-over sound, and his career has led him to stay away from the angst which drove him before and instead focus upon finding some sort of comfort in the world while he’s still alive. This makes Upside Down Mountain an oddly hopeful album which is highlighted by the imagery and diction of Oberst’s dropping and honestly imperfect vocals. The primary issue to be held against the album is that the sound doesn’t change much in between the tracks, and the slow progression creates a product which can feel dragged out towards the latter moments. Despite that, here’s still enough fascinating lyricism present to call Upside Down Mountain a solid release even when compared to the catalogue of one of my favorite artists and perhaps the premiere folk artist of the 21st century so far.

Top Tracks: “Time Forgot”, “Hundreds of Ways”

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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Days of Abandon

Release Date: 05/11/2014

Grade: B+

Earlier in this year as I created a list about artists who were due for a release in 2014 I talked about The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as an artist who were primed for an album-of-the-year type of release within the year. The reasoning behind this is that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a band entering their prime at the moment and coming off of two excellent releases in The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in 2009 and more recently Belong in 2011. Pains is a band which has been consistently fun and danceable in their past, and that continues on Days of Abandon as the pop qualities of the music are still obvious and melodic, but the disappointment stems from the band not taking that next step which would have catapulted them into indie stardom. Days of Abandon is a missed opportunity in that way as it’s likely the weakest album by the band at this point in their career; it lacks the single qualities which earlier releases carried. Still, this is still an album which does highlight the band’s strengths and shows that they really are one of the premiere pop groups of the moment even in a disappointing release. There’s better representations of the band, but Days of Abandon is still an easily enjoyed listen because of it’s melodies and consistent lightness.

Top Tracks: “Beautiful You”, “Art Smock”

Ocean Death

Baths- Ocean Death EP

Release Date: 05/06/2014

Grade: A-

Will Wiesenfeld, the man behind Baths, stays pretty and thoughtful on this release as the Ocean Death EP sounds similar to what I was expecting to hear from Michael Angelakos on Passion Pit’s ‘dark’ 2012 release Gossamer. The voice similarity between those two is uncanny and makes the comparison between them seemingly inevitable, but a nice thing about Baths’ is that the artist brings a lot to the table by keeping the music further in the background and deeper in tone. It’s still electronic-pop meaning that the primary principle of the music is that it has to be danceable, and thankfully Ocean Death fulfills this while still giving the listener terrifically creative lyricism like “We can talk, We can talk all you want / You don’t speak to me” on personal favorite track “Orator”. The lasting impression from this EP is that it’s a great sampling of sound by an artist which is consistently easy to enjoy, but also a release which is best displayed as an EP because of doubts about how enjoyable the product would be if it was stretched out into a full album. Since it’s kept in a shorter format though there’s no need to worry about this, and you can view Ocean Death as an interestingly fun EP which is well worth the listen.

Top Tracks: “Orator”, “Ocean Death”

About kylewcdb

Blog Editor for Airwaves, former alternative rock director of CDB and current host of "Trust the Wizard" on WCDB Sunday nights from 10pm-midnight.
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