Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain

by Dan Clay Rating:9 Release Date:2014-05-19

Six years after his debut solo album, Conor Oberst returns with a much-awaited follow-up. That gap might be considered unnecessarily long were it not for the fact Oberst has released other singles and albums in the meantime with the now disbanded Bright Eyes, The Mystic Valley Band, Monsters of Folk, and Desaparecidos. Though each retained a sense of the sparky, off-beat charm Oberst channelled so well into 2005’s 'I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning', it’s only now we’re treated to something solely from of the man himself – and what a treat it is.

Kicking off with the beautiful ‘Time Forgot’ – a sort of acoustic power-ballad waiting to spring to life – it’s clear Oberst hasn’t lost any of his knack for an off-kilter melodic delight. Following this with the more straight-forward but equally poppy ‘Zigzagging Toward the Light’, before launching into the reggae-infused lead single ‘Hundreds of Ways’, means this is probably the most assured and upbeat opening to any Oberst offering so far.

With the acoustic melancholy of ‘Artifact 1’ and the slide-guitar blues of ‘Lonely at the Top’, Oberst switches track for the mid-section, with the tale of one ‘Enola Gay’ providing a similarly bluesy highlight.

There might be a rather dreary plod to ‘Double Life’ but the album soon regains its thrust with the aptly titled ‘Kick’, a fuzzy-guitared gem which would sit well on any Bright Eyes release.
It’s a brave move to follow this with two slow-building acoustic songs, but both ‘Night at Lake Unknown’ and ‘You Are Your Mother’s Child’ feel so intimate, it’s as if Oberst is playing guitar in the room with you, something Springsteen did so well on the sparse and stripped-back The Ghost of Tom Joad.

However, he saves his best for last with the fabulous folk-rock of 'Governor's Ball' - possibly the best track on the album and certainly the most fun - following it up with the stranded tales of 'Desert Island Questionnaire'. Closing track 'Common Knowledge', one of those solo acoustic tracks akin to 'Night' and 'Mother's Child', sends you off knowing it would make for a perfect gig encore closing number. By then though you know you've just climbed this Upside Down Mountain and come down again having heard something really special.

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