Album Review: Conor Oberst, 'Upside Down Mountain'

Conor Oberst - 'Upside Down Mountain', which released on May 19, 2014.
Conor Oberst - 'Upside Down Mountain', which released on May 19, 2014. (© 2014 Nonesuch Records.)

Conor Oberst has been a busy fellow over the last few years. He's hinted that Bright Eyes will cease to exist since the release of 2011's The People's Key, meanwhile reuniting one of his old bands, Desaparecidos. He's also collaborated with artists such as First Aid Kit, and worked on a documentary and subsequent soundtrack album with his Mystic Valley Band. All the while, there's been a hankering for a proper album from Oberst; he delivers with his newest solo effort, Upside Down Mountain.

Upside Down Mountain is a continuation of many of Oberst's trademark tropes, with all the connotations that come with them. He has a knack for constructing bits of phrases that stick in a listener's head, long after the song has concluded. Pitchfork's review pointed out a handful of these, which only underscores the impression of how much Oberst's words make a singular impact. He's garnered a reputation for periodic navel-gazing, but here, his songs actually feel like compelling stories, whether constructing the airplane metaphor of "Enola Gay" or the striking friendship saga of "Common Knowledge." In "You Are Your Mother's Child," Oberst projects such a rich empathy for the plight of a parent, it's somewhat incredible that he doesn't actually have children of his own — his touch is that delicate, and that precise.

I was impressed by some of the different sonic textures Oberst introduces to his palette. Some songs wouldn't sound out of place on a '70s soft rock album — and I don't mean that derogatorily! There's also a few '80s moments; the opening track, "Time Forgot," apes one of the most famous drum fills that you all know and love. Overall, Oberst's melodies possess a familiarity, making all the songs seem both comfortable and easygoing.

Upside Down Mountain may not seem as trenchant or urgent as some of Oberst's other work — notably his Bright Eyes high points — but it's still a pleasant, moving effort that's a worthy addition to his voluminous canon.

Have you heard the album? What do you think of it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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