CONOR OBERST (Merge) Rating: NNNN
Conor Oberst may have shaken off the Bright Eyes moniker - the main vehicle for his musical output for more than a decade - and assembled a new band under a different label, but his latest offering is the unmistakable cousin of last year's Cassadaga.
Birthed in isolation in Tepoztlan, Mexico, a place famed for Aztec magic and paranormal activity, it ploughs the same crop of religion, death and love. But here, polished country rock is replaced with twangy acoustic guitars, honky-?tonk piano and ear-?blasting horns. There's a sense of playfulness on I Don't Wanna Die (In The Hospital) and NYC - Gone, Gone that's missing from Cassadaga, and enough catchiness to keep radio stations happy (even if said track happens to be an ominous ode to a dying boy), but it's on the achingly simplest of songs where Oberst's familiar splenetic growl returns at last.