May 22, 2014 Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain (Album review)
Longtime fans have heard Conor Oberst mature many times through his long career, especially the ones who have his earliest collections where he was as young as fifteen. Now at thirty-four we join him in yet another phase of life with Upside Down Mountain, co-produced by Jonathan Wilson and released May 19, 2014. Oberst’s musical career has taken numerous forms. The most popular, Bright Eyes, seems to have come to the end of the road with 2011’s The People’s Key. Although Oberst has released quite a bit of material outside of Bright Eyes over the years, Upside Down Mountain marks a certain coming of age as his first as a solo artist after the demise of his long time alter-ego, thinly disguised as a band.
The album begins with a familiar strum of acoustic guitar and tale of feeling restless and wishing for anonymity on “Time Forgot”. Then the drum kicks in, which will remind everyone only of Phil Collins but surprisingly works. The harmonies from Swedish duo First Aid Kit are also very effective and can be heard throughout the album. “Hundreds of Ways”, the first single, delivers the same introspection listeners have become accustomed to but from a different point of view. Oberst would have once been more likely to lament on the difficulty that took place in getting through every angst-filled day. With maturity sometimes comes acceptance though, and this is showcased in the buoyant chorus; “There are hundreds of ways to get through the day… just find one.”
“Artifact #1” quiets things down, reflecting on things lost to the past as Oberst sings, “Life can’t compete with memories that never have to change.” A slinky slide guitar makes an appearance and reappears on “Double Life” which tells us from the start, “It ain’t perfect, nothing is…there’s still room to grow” with a pretty vocal melody drenched in melancholy. “You are Your Mother’s Child” has the stripped down, relatable feeling of the 2005’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning hit “This Is The First Day Of My Life” though not quite the same level of sincerity. The album ends on a high note with two great tracks, “Desert Island Questionnaire” and “Common Knowledge”. The former, featuring vocal assistance from Oberst’s wife, starts with the old game of what you would do if presented certain scenarios and eventually soaring into urgent desperation.
For the most part, Upside Down Mountain evokes a sense of maturity. There are certain themes that still linger unresolved from Oberst’s youth. Dying young remains a romantic notion, although he admits a fear of it by the album’s closing. Musically, the maturity is more obvious as he has become a more multi-layered composer through the years. The difficulty in being thought of as a prodigy is that everyone eventually has to grow up. You cannot bottle that initial magic you unleash on the world, but Conor Oberst is just fine with that and it shows on this album. CrypticRock give this album 4 out of 5 stars.