Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reviews: Conor Oberst and Johnny Flynn

I intend to write music reviews for all of the albums I buy, but I'm realizing now that with the amount of music I purchase (not an extreme amount, but a few CDs a month), combined with my lack of writing skills and lack of writing motivation, will make this a somewhat daunting task. But, I will soldier on, that's just the kind of guy I am.

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst (* * * * 1/2)

More folk music. I can't stay away this year because there's so much to enjoy, and Conor Oberst isn't making that any easier. Having dropped the 'Bright Eyes' moniker (which I wasn't too attached too anyway), he has subtly shifted his sound to a much more relaxed and, dare I say, pleasant folk-rock style.

That's not a bad thing, either. Conor Oberst isn't exactly a cheery set of songs; death, disease, and lost love all make appearances, but it sounds like the work of an artist who had a good time putting the record together. So while some people will whine about the breezier, occasionally lighthearted sound, I think it's refreshing. Plus, it's not THAT relaxed, only in comparison to most of his earlier material.

Tunes range from very americana-ish folk songs (Cape Canaveral) to rock 'n' roll rave-ups (I Don't Want To Die) both of which are fantastic. Other places, Oberst sings about the healing of the road, barrios, and the fear of death, all of which might sound cliche, because they are. Fortunately, his strengths as a songwriter make it all sound new again, and interesting. It's a slightly twisted and thoroughly enjoyable folk-rock album.

Favorite Tracks: Cape Canaveral, I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital), Moab

Johnny Flynn - A Larum (* * * *)

The Sussex Wit are not your average new-folk band, and front man Johnny Flynn is definitely not a typical singer-songwriter. A 25 year-old Shakespearean actor, Flynn brings a unique and very literate style to this talented group of musicians, who provide his songs with a very rustic, age-old sound with a twist. It's a combination that has produced an album of musical poetry that sounds both ancient and modern.

Besides being a great lyricist, Flynn also plays about a billion instruments (guitar, banjo, violin, trumpet etc.) which fill out the songs when necessary, and disappear altogether on a couple of simple, finger-picked tracks (some of my favorites). The mix of styles and instruments keeps things interesting throughout the album, though it never gets too scattered. A couple songs drag a little, and a somewhat annoying cello or violin effect comes screeching along occasionally, which distracts from the music, though I suppose that's a personal preference. Also, Flynn sometimes is too busy writing beautiful phrases to worry about melody, as in "Eyeless in Holloway." Generally, however, the music rolls along as Flynn tells clever and enjoyable yarns from yesteryear; good stuff.

All-in-all, a very accomplished debut album and an artist that I will look forward to hearing from again. If you like your folk with and olde fashioned twist, check out 'A Larum.'

Favorite Tracks: The Box, Leftovers, Tunnels