So much for the unadulterated angst of the old Conor Oberst. While touring with the Mystic Valley Band, he sheds the token torment in favor of a rollicking ride over the border. He also shows a generosity of spirit by sharing singing and songwriting duties for the first time in his highly prolific career. While not his most cohesive work to date—the majority of country-tinged folk rock is broken up by schizophrenic indie pop anthem “Air Mattress”—Outer South is indicative of life lived alternately on the road and in hotels, embracing the diversity that is borne with each passing town.
For you seekers of sadness, the album still contains a couple tracks to please the purists. My favorite, piano-fueled ode to paranoia “Big Black Nothing,” is not one of them, nor was it written by Oberst; it belongs to guitarist Nik Freitas. But “White Shoes” entreats the beloved with a familiar sensitivity—and, without the backing band, evokes the intimacy of vintage Bright Eyes. While this record probably won’t make a major ripple across the sea of music, it’s a solid effort that I would like to listen while heading down to Mexico myself.
Who: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
What: Outer South
Where: Omaha, Nebraska
Why: “Big black nothing / Fooling everyone.”