Conor Oberst : Upside Down Mountain
(2014 Nonesuch Records)
That Conor Oberst is held in very high regard round these parts should come as no surprise (see here , here or here). Having been following his career right from the beginning it is clear he’s come a long way but stayed true to himself at the same time. Upside Down Mountain is his first album for Nonesuch and the first (to me knowledge) that he’s worked with Jonathan Wilson who is famed for his 60’s Country-Rock style. I am not intimately familiar with Mr. Wilson’s work, but what I am hearing on here confirms my suspicions that he is perhaps a bit too full of himself, as some of the arrangements on the album sound a tad too much faux-60’s Country/Folk-Rock for my liking. I mean, I like 60’s Country-Rock (a lot), but sounding too much like that nowadays, I don’t know it just sounds a bit cheesy to me.
Anyway, the songs on Upside Down Mountain sound quite varied, so they can’t be accused of riding the same pony all the time. The fact that the album was produced by Mr. Wilson doesn’t mean (fortunately) that Conor Oberst severed all the ties with the Saddle Creek people he’s worked with to such fine effect in the past. Quite a few familiar names creep up on here too, other notable guests are the Soederberg sisters(?) from First Aid Kit who sound nice, but who I personally could have done without, they are just not adding that much despite their undoubtedly pretty voices.
True to my taste, my favourite songs on here are the most reduced ones, such as album closer Common Knowledge and You Are Your Mother’s Child (the latter with only Conor Oberst on vocals and an acoustic guitar). Best song by far for me however is Night At Lake Unknown, a track that roughly falls in the same category as the ones mentioned above. Actually it is not that sparsely arranged as there are instruments such as a flute, a clarinet, vibraphone and a pedal steel guitar to be heard, but the outcome is a rather sparsely and modestly sounding slow and dreamy song that I love a whole lot. The highlight for me on here.
Other noteworthy and good songs are in contrast rather lavishly produced and arranged, such as Desert Island Questionnaire, Hundreds Of Ways and Zigzagging Towards The Light and are prime examples of contemporary Guitar Pop and sound than more like the Folk or Country-influenced sounds you have come to expect from Mr. Oberst’s records (apart from Bright Eyes’ last record The People’s Key with its 80’s Synth-stylings) .
What is once again made abundantly clear and obvious (not that it actually should have to be mentioned), is that Conor Oberst is a intelligent person and a brilliant lyricist, the lyrics on here are once again outstanding, eloquent and highly refined. Excellent work in that regard, musically it perhaps won’t become my favourite of the works he was involved in, but nevertheless it’s a very good record I will cherish, and well worth discovering if you are not yet familiar with Mr. Oberst.
PS. The Cover and booklet illustrations are by Ian Felice of The Felice Brothers, which is nice.