Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, ‘One of My Kind’ – Album Review
If your recent Omaha-born indie heartthrob history is not up-to-date, here's a quick run down, courtesy of the trailer below: "In January 2008, Conor Oberst went to Tepoztlan, Mexico to make a solo record. He accidentally formed a band." And the band accidentally created a documentary film (part of which you can watch below). And they have purposefully put both together for your purchase.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band's history skews toward the frontman's narcissism. The Bright Eyes singer released the first work of the band under his own name, the concert-only EP called 'Gentleman's Pact."' After touring, Oberst and the Mystic Valley boys -- that's the ragtag collection of Nik Freitas, Nathaniel Walcott, Jason Boesel, Macey Taylor and Taylor Hollingsworth -- decamped to El Paso, Texas, to record 2009 album 'Outer South.' Oberst brought in singer-songwriter Philip Schaffart to tune guitars. He brought a camera. Sensing magic in the recording session, he taped and taped and taped -- the result of which is the documentary presented before you.
Originally a free download on Causecast, the doc's footage is handheld, in the studio, and on tour. Either to give fans a hard copy, or perhaps to make a buck, the doc and its companion EP, form a package from Oberst's Team Love label. It's like Spinal Tap, only instead of the amps going up to 11, they go to crestfallen.
And we do love a fallen crest. Mr. Oberst has been making indie kids swoon since the late '90s, the narrative of his neuroses stretching back to 'Letting Off The Happiness.'
Some of these tracks are worth immortalizing on your Xanga.
The comp opens with 'One of My Kind,' a '60s-inflected rock diary awash with homecoming tension. Oberst says that he can't live in the city where he was born, and how all the people that he's known since high school call him brother -- "like Cain and Abel." By this point in his career, you know what you're getting into with Oberst: a sprinkling of cocaine references, a bouquet of lugubrious longings, some anti-establishment bile and the turns of phrase that make all the whining worthwhile: "Standing in the sickening sunshine / After staying out all night / Maybe it's a good life."
Oberst again takes up the Dylan-of-a-generation flag with 'Gentleman's Pact,' in which we find our hero lost and drunk in a hotel, calling his broker "to settle everything, I want to be prepared." The organ swell and gang choruses do approximate a percentile of the 'Last Waltz.' Oh, the #indiestarproblems afoot, as Oberst mock laments that he "tried to die young with my true love, ended up a millionaire." Take heed, aspiring songwriters: If you make it big, you'll end up including references to the stocks in your songs.
Ever the expert at cardiac carpentry, Oberst leverages full use of his heart wrench for 'Breezy,' a song written for harpist Sabrina Dium, who toured with Bright Eyes in 2005 and died in January 2007. He shares spare, nocturnal confidences -- that they walked down the boardwalk together, looking like they were married. His "I know I love you now, doesn't matter" tugs at the heartstrings, as do her attempts to teach him about baseball: "My favorite was the part when they make it home." This is Oberst at his bleeding best.
The rest of the album -- especially the tracks where non-Oberst members of the Mystic Valley band sing, like 'Phil's Song' or 'I Got The Reason #1'-- lacks the same effect. 'Corina, Corina,' is serviceable, though, of course, Dylan did it better; 'Kodachome' could be optimistic Wilco; 'White Shoes (Reprise)' has a shoegaze-romance ambience suited to a teenage vampire soap opera kiss.
Together, the LP and DVD are a must for those as obsessed with Oberst as he is. For the rest of us, 'One of My Kind' is pleasant, even touching, but not the revelation it might wish to be.
Watch the 'One of My Kind' Trailer
Watch Part One of the 'One of My Kind' Documentary