Conor Oberst

By: Tom Nealon
February 15, 2010

Trying to pin down an artist who has twenty-odd albums (with eight or so bands) and the founding of two record labels behind him by age 30, feels as muddled as some of CONOR OBERST’s (born 1980) less successful efforts. Most associated with the uneven folk-rock brilliance of Bright Eyes, it’s his brief but earnest work as frontman for Desaparecidos that really makes your sweet meats want to dance. A quaveringly convulsed hymn to the war in Iraq, the disappearing middle class, Omaha, consumerism, and the housing bubble, Desaparecidos’ Read Music Speak Spanish (2002) would have kicked America in the nuts if anyone had been listening. “I got a letter from the Army, So I think that I’ll enlist, I’m not brave or proud of nothing, I just want to kill something” pretty much summed up a large slice of views on the US presence in Iraq. More recently, Oberst made big news singing the bitter, despondent “When the President Talks to God” — which might not be Neil Young’s “Ohio,” but came as close as anything to expressing the hopeless confusion that so many people of faith felt in the face of George W. Bush’s musclebound Christianity. As Oberst seems to be returning to the quieter genius of his folk/country roots, it is his head-on collision with consumer society’s mutated yearning in a bulldozed Midwest (“So send the National Guard, to the Mall of America”) that will sustain us.

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Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more HiLo Hero shout-outs.

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What do you think?

  1. Ah, jeez. I look forward to Hilo Hero posts every day when I open my reader but this installment is a big pile of buzz.

    I enjoyed my fair share of Bright Eyes records IN HIGH SCHOOL but how a self-respecting adult can use his name + “hero” in any context is beyond me.

    More Elmore James, Bertolt Brecht, Langston Hughes + the like, less pompous windbags making over produced alt country records.

  2. READ MUSIC SPEAK SPANISH was the soundtrack to my 2003. In the Bush Era, it felt very real and urgent and necessary and listening to it fed my angry young man like nothing else. But it’s hard to go back to now. Maybe my angry young man isn’t as hungry these days.

    That doesn’t mean it’s anything less than a work of genius. It’s simply not an album that you find and pick up and dig it. It’s an album that finds you, and digs into you until it hits a nerve, and it lives on that nerve for a while, until you outgrow it.

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