Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

Upside Down MountainConor Oberst has been releasing music for over 20 years now. That's right – we’re fifteen years on from the teenage angst of breakthrough track "Falling out of love at this volume" and subsequent album, Fevers And Mirrors. Further to this we're almost ten years on from what people consider his magnum opus, the Bright Eyes album I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.  Under his various monikers, Oberst has now released over twenty albums. "But why is now the time for reflection?" I hear you asking. Because on Upside Down Mountain we find Conor in a very reflective mood.

Despite only turning 34 in February of this year, Oberst sings of tales on Upside Down Mountain that make him sound like an elder statesman of indie rock. "Zigzagging toward the Light" finds the musician reflecting on how naive his attitude to death was and contemplating his mortality. This may be a morbid subject matter, but it’s musically a song that early 1970s David Bowie would have been proud of. It's so catchy you can't help but tap your toes.

Similarly on "You Are Your Mother's Child" we find Oberst taking the role of a proud father narrating his son's progress from birth to young adulthood.  Prior knowledge of Oberst's age makes our protagonist around twelve at the time of this fictitious birth. Yet if we suspend reality, it’s a convincing and beautiful song. Oberst has spent his whole career belying his age and it seems that even as he approaches his mid-30s, he’s still not content.

It isn't all reflection from Oberst though. He’s far too talented a songwriter to slip into any kind of rut musically or lyrically. "Governor's Ball" is an easy on the ear light-hearted farce, which soundtracks the occasion when Oberst's sensible and proper friend broke from type, tripped out at a festival, disappeared from his friends and then returns looking very sheepish. Whilst "Artifact #1" is one of the strongest love songs you'll hear this year. The most notable track on the album though is the closer, "Common Knowledge". There’s no saving grace: this is a very downbeat track, but ultimately Oberst made his career as a miserablist, so we should embrace this side of him. He sings of his alter ego, which feels he should have joined the 27 club to be remembered and contemplates going "out with a bang like Hemingway". It's downbeat but it's a stunning song.

"Common Knowledge" makes you want to take Upside Down Mountain down the pub and assure it everything’s going to be okay. Yet then you listen back to the album and realise how varied the themes are and music is, which brings you to the realisation that Oberst is just a superb storyteller. On Upside Down Mountain he’s in full swing.

Release: 29th May 2014, Nonesuch Records

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