Ruminations is a record like none other in Conor Oberst’s catalog, stunning for how utterly alone he sounds.
Conor Oberst’s music has never sounded lonely. Yes, he’s done catatonically despondent, inconsolable, dejected, maniacal—it’s a lot to handle, and yet he’s always been surrounded by friends both local and legendary who believe in his vision, underscoring his status as one of the 21st century’s most mercurial and charismatic songwriters. Arriving almost a month after a comprehensive Bright Eyes boxed set that feels like a headstone for the band, Ruminations is a record like none other in Oberst’s catalog—stunning for how utterly alone he sounds. This is obvious in a technical sense, as there are no goddamn timpani rolls, no boys to keep strummin’ those guitars, just Oberst on harmonica, acoustic and piano with ten songs written during an Omaha winter and recorded in 48 hours. Plenty of folk artists make records like that. But there’s also a loneliness in Ruminations that’s far rare and disturbing—the loneliness one feels after taking stock and wondering if they have a friend left in the world.