Bright Eyes, Noise Floor (Rarities: 1998–2005)
Conor Oberst knows sincerity won’t redeem clichés, and that’s torture for a songwriter. His raggedly failing to square his head and heart betrays frustration of the highest order.
Mountain Goats, Get Lonely
John Darnielle, normally a high-strung acoustic strummer, slows down and shares the mundane but unsettling details of some slightly warped post-relationship behavior. He’s clawing for shreds of hope, and hardly capturing any.
Damien Rice, 9
Can anything satisfy this sometimes lively, honey-voiced Irishman besides bitter confrontations with exes and cynical dismissals of Christmas? Anger like this is a callus on pain, but no matter what, it’ll get you down. Finding inspiration in the idea of “Accidental Babies”? That’s life in a world of real hurt.
Jeremy Enigk, World Waits
Enigk established himself as one of emo’s great sulkers while fronting Sunny Day Real Estate in the nineties. Now he acts the statesman, bearing “man’s hate,” the burdens of history, etc. His despair, it seems, knows no bounds.
Tobias Fröberg, Somewhere in the City
A winsome Swede geeking out on spare folk and almost campy sixties pop, Fröberg seems to gaze in the mirror, telling himself he’s okay and that people like him. His needy romantic twitches might just owe to an admiration for Brian Wilson.
Damien Jurado, And Now That I’m in Your Shadow
Singing of shootings and drinking gasoline, Jurado seems a bit like the socially awkward third-grader who draws people stabbing each other: either creative or disturbed. His campfire ways suggest “creative.”
Pete Yorn, Nightcrawler
Fame, women he’s slept with, “The Man”—these things get Yorn to thinking and that means melancholy’s just around the bend. He may be quiet at the bar, but he still ain’t drinking alone.
Ray Lamontagne, Till the Sun Turns Black
LaMontagne’s a throaty ladies’ man with a taste for soul music and interpersonal drama. He plays the moony-blue introvert well enough, but for all the wounded sensitivity he summons, it’s hard to believe he’s not dealing from the bottom of the deck.
Entrance, Prayer of Death
A self-styled fatalist visionary, Guy Blakeslee wails about the futility of fearing death amid wild psychedelic-blues. But he’s apparently having a pretty groovy time waiting out the apocalypse (or whatever).