Recorded in less than 48 hours with longtime collaborator Mike Mogis and engineer Ben Brodin, Ruminations sees Conor Oberst going full-on Nebraska, delivering a raw, difficult, and often beautiful set of deeply personal songs with minimal accompaniment. His seventh solo album and first since 2014's Upside Down Mountain, Ruminations is a far cry from the fiery, politically charged punk of 2015's Desaparecidos outing Payola. That said, it delivers much of what fans have come to expect from the prolific, erudite midwesterner; alternately shambolic and stately distillations of life's hardships, delivered with honesty and wobbly conviction. Written during a particularly challenging time that found Oberst battling anxiety, depression, laryngitis, and a host of other medical ills, the ten-track set bristles with the unease that comes with having to confront a particularly large swath of the unknown. Utilizing piano, guitar, and occasionally harmonica, Oberst wrestles with past, present, and future, but most of the aptly named LP concerns itself with loss. It's not the prettiest or easiest of records, nor is it Oberst's finest outing to date, but it does house some real gems, including the emotionally charged opener "Tachycardia," the thoughtful, Dylan-esque "You All Loved Him Once," and the barbed and broken "A Little Uncanny," the latter of which manages to pay homage to Jane Fonda, take down Ronald Reagan, and eulogize Robin Williams, Christopher Hitchens, Oliver Sacks, and Sylvia Plath, all in just over four minutes.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger