Often labelled as the ‘21’st Century Dylan’, or, ‘the spokesperson of the Ritalin generation’, Conor Oberst is, to many, a hero, one of the best songwriters around today. He is well known for his ability to pen a good lyric, and the trend continues here on his first solo release under his own name, Upside Down Mountain. Produced by Jonathan Wilson, he of the throwback to the 1970’s Laurel Canyon sound, Upside Down Mountain is suitably low-key without being bland, offering a collection of 13 tracks which radiate warmth and vibrancy. Oberst is well-known for his sensitive soul, and if you like the confessional nature of songwriting, then there is a lot to love here, least not the tender, delicately strummed ‘You are Your Mother’s Child’, which sees Oberst embody the voice of a father of a newborn child, his voice barely above a whisper. The story of the child developing from birth through to early adulthood, with all the trials and tribulations which come with it (“Halloween costume, looking real cute….Posing for pictures, a cap and a gown”) will surely resonates with parents all over, and is the true highlight here.
It isn’t all softly-softly here though; Oberst gets the electric guitar out on the rather riff-heavy ‘Zigzagging Towards the Light’, and again on the rather brilliant ‘Governor’s Ball’, not just an ode to the New York music festival, but to the nature of festivals across the world. On ‘Hundreds of Ways’, Oberst has penned a jaunty, summery tune, built around a acoustic guitar and a rather groovy baseline, with Oberst himself upstaged by the presence of the First Aid Kit sisters and their lilting backing vocals. It is as lyrically dense as the majority of his work, but it doesn’t suffer for it. It is a sign of the confidence which Oberst demonstrates throughout this record, which despite being his most intimate since Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake… is also perhaps his most strongest set of songs.
If you are already a fan of Bright Eyes, or Monsters of Folk, or Desparecidos, then chances are you’ll have either pre-ordered this or will have decided you are getting it without reading this review. If, however, you are new to the world of Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain serves as a great introduction into an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve, and who, deep down, just wants to be loved. This is one such record which you can fall in love with.
Words: Joe Sweeting