Fire Note Says: Conor Oberst is showing his age – and that is not a bad thing.
Album Review: Does it sound weird that Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) is 34 years old? Not that 34 is over the hill by any means but when you consider that Oberst’s first record of all new material was released in 1998 with Letting Off the Happiness that seems like a lifetime ago. At the time, his emotional folk music was fresh and exciting as the “Omaha sound” was the new hotbed for music discovery. Now Oberst needs to work a little harder to please current fans, win new ones and most of all – close the gap between Bright Eyes and his solo work because regardless of the moniker he still is relevant.
I say this because anymore I believe that the fan that is into Bright Eyes is the same fan that is into Oberst. I totally understand the different persona behind the names but on Upside Down Mountain Oberst explains that the record is a return to his early style of writing. Maybe that is true but what I found on Upside Down Mountain is an Oberst who is experienced, tested and confident. This record dabbles in the folk sound complete with pedal steel but it also contains the more retro rock found on 2009’s solo Outer South album with his Mystic Valley Band. This time around though this classic vibe is a warmer 70’s California type of breeze. That works on songs like “Night At Lake Unknown” and “Double Life” which also benefits from sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg from First Aid Kit helping out on these two tracks along with several others on the album. It is an understatement on how much depth they bring to Upside Down Mountain.
Upside Down Mountain is not the best record Oberst has released but it is a firm staple for where he is today. He is married and content but now can look forward with caution and backward with skepticism. No longer does he have an obsession with death like “The Calendar Hung Itself” from Fevers and Mirrors (2000) or as politically charged as he was on 2005’s “Landlocked Blues” but now you get a much higher view and second person take on these type of topics from the wiser, life experienced Oberst versus the edgy 24 year old that used to be behind the pen. This is Upside Down Mountain’s strength and Achilles heel all in the same framework because as a longtime fan you don’t want much change but as a career artist you expect it. Here I think Conor rolls with his changing environment and release an engaging record that will make you think, tap your feet in places and still put Conor Oberst in the category of artists we care to hear from. For me – that is mission accomplished.
Key Tracks: “Time Forget” / “Hundreds Of Ways”/ “Night At Lake Unknown”
Artists With Similar Fire: Tom Petty / Beck / Dawes
Conor Oberst Website
Conor Oberst Facebook
– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony