Conor Oberst's lyrics tend to be heavy-handed with metaphors and language in general, often reading like a hipper, more literate version of a 16-year-old girl's poetry journal. His self-titled effort (and first under his given name) doesn't shy away from that kind of grating poetic license. The music largely absorbs Oberst's words here, though, so at least they become part of the larger whole. Instrumentally, the album has a similar stripped-down, cosmic-Americana feel to Bright Eyes' (Oberst's best-known alias) 2005 LP I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, only now with Oberst firmly in his own skin.
"Cape Canaveral" opens with a tribal beat, softly thumped out against the side of an acoustic guitar as Oberst's vocal reverie and simply-strummed melody provide counterpoint. "Sausalito" feels like the rockier end of early No Depression fare, and Oberst's vocals mirror Jeff Tweedy circa Anodyne on "Danny Callahan." These stabs at comfortably shambling country-rock and freak-folk are welcome refinements, but Conor Oberst's real highlight is "NYC — Gone, Gone." Barely a minute long, its stomping backbeat and Irish/Southern melody mirror the subject's wanderlust perfectly in the simple lines "Gone, gone from New York City / Where you gonna go with a heart that empty?" On Conor Oberst, it appears Conor Oberst has found brevity. Let's hope it sticks around.