Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Conor Oberst

Ross Cunningham 16/07/2008

Rating: 4/5

No longer on his way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead “Bright Eyes” Conor Oberst is now firmly rooted in the mystic valley. It was first reported by Pitchfork Media that Oberst would team up with M. Ward to play live and record an album towards the end of 2007. For whatever reason this collaboration didn't materialise (M. Ward was probably too busy with Zooey Deschanel) and instead Nik Freitas and Jason Boesel joined Oberst to play two shows in Minnesota. Shortly after this live outing a trip to Mexico to record his newly penned tunes heralded the formation of The Mystic Valley Band.

The self titled album was produced by Oberst himself and although the other cast members have changed it stays much in the mould of his previous work. Recorded in Tepoztlán, Morales, Mexico. The band began work in a studio pieced together in a mountain villa and after a very fruitful month had the first Mystic Valley Band album in the can.

Opening with “Cape Canaveral” a solitary drum beats before being joined by Conor's delicate vocal. It's a perfect introduction to the sound and style of the band and gives you a taste of what's to come from the album. ”Get-Well-Cards” plods along nicely with a catchy chorus and intricate acoustic guitar work throughout and sees Conor talking about a sleeping postman who has failed to deliver the mail (reminds me of my T in the park tickets). Putting his troubadour hat squarely on his head for “Moab” Oberst sings “There's nothing that the road cannot heal” as the music breaks and then builds it surely has the sound of a future single. If you were wondering where the mystic comes into the Mystic Valley Band then look no further than “Valle Mistico (Ruben's Song)” as three bursts on what you would imagine is a large instrument made out of some kind of animal horn swirl around your eardrums for just over a minute. It creates a sparse and haunting echoing effect and instantly transports you to another plain of existence.

“I Don't Want Die (In The Hospital)” has Conor at his storytelling best recounting the tale of a patient who knows deaths boney finger is hovering above him and as the title suggests doesn't want to die in the hospital. The real sense of urgency in the situation is conveyed perfectly by Oberst's up-tempo vocal delivery and furious piano playing. During “Souled Out” there's a little repeated undecipherable voice that causes Oberst to let out a laugh mid-song. Clearly Conor and company are not only producing music of exceptional quality but also have a right good time in doing so. Oberst's vocals are as distinctive as ever. His voice warbles and intentionally breaks infusing the songs with just as much charm and emotional intensity as any “Bright Eyes” album.

The album closer is entitled “Milk Thistle” and deals with the themes of death and fragility with Conor perhaps hoping that the reputed healing properties of the plant will help him to stay alive a little bit longer. He pleads to the thistle to help him go slow explaining “if I go to heaven I'll be bored as hell”. You might not be in heaven but you certainly won't be “bored as hell” listening to The Mystic Valley Bands debut.

Personally I loved this album and can't wait to get the chance to see the band perform live this summer at the festivals. There are no kids with chemicals or first days of anyone's life but if you're a fan of “Bright Eyes” you won't feel alienated in the slightest by the album. In fact it sounds more like bright eyes than the bright eyes album “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn” .So never fear about the loss of your favourite songs from the Bright Eyes back catalogue, embrace the new mystic direction and enjoy the thoughtful, poetic and profound tales of one of the most prolific and talented songwriters around today.