Noise Floor (Rarities: 1998-2005)

Noise Floor (Rarities: 1998-2005)

In summer 2019, Conor Oberst embarked on a quick solo tour of the United States, playing with a cast of old friends. “We called it The Family Band,” he says. “We played a bunch of zoos and fucking fairgrounds—it was really weird, but we had so much fun.” Along the way, Oberst started unearthing older, forgotten songs (“Blue Angels Air Show” and “Motion Sickness” among them) that had mostly seen scattered 7-inch releases over time, before finally being compiled on 2006’s rarities set Noise Floor. “We ended up playing them, but with a new band sound, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, these songs sound so cool to me right now,’” he says. “Because, like going back to the Collection of Songs-type stuff, those songs were recorded so lo-fi. So, to give them a real shot at existing in a more fully realized context was really cool.” Noise Floor gathers material recorded between 1998 and 2005—arguably Oberst’s most successful stretch as a songwriter, as well as his most widely celebrated. From 2001’s “Drunk Kid Catholic” to “Trees Get Wheeled Away” (which he played, curiously, during his first national TV appearance on Letterman, in 2003), it offers a glimpse of his growth during that period, when his transition from indie pinup to The Next Dylan coincided with a blistering run of songs. “That was the era, at least amongst our scene of bands, where every other week you had some friends being like, ‘Let’s do a split 7-inch’ or ‘Can you contribute a song to this random compilation?”’ he says. “I just had a lot of songs at the time, and I said yes to a lot of those things.” In revisiting the material for the compilation’s reissue (as well as its companion EP), Oberst was able to rediscover his own work. “I think that one, to me, was honestly the most fun,” he says. “I think it’s because, besides that experience on tour, these are ones that I had the least memories of, in a way. I mean, I think I forgot that ‘Vanishing Act’ song existed, until I was listening to the record, trying to pick songs. To me, they were brand-new songs. But here was enough material that we would find one that we still felt good about redoing it. It’s like that old quote, ‘an embarrassment of riches’—this was like an ‘embarrassment of embarrassments.’ Got plenty to choose from.”

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