[ALBUM REVIEW] Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain
Before I begin this, I have somewhat of a confession to make. I kind of used to be... a bit of an emo. Yes, I'm sure most 20-or-30-something-year-olds went through that teen angst phase in high school, where you listened to Rise Against and proclaimed to your parents broodily on family vacation that Refused were "The Shape Of Punk To Come". No? Just me? Alright then.
One person in particular who helped me get through these tumultuous teenage years was Conor Oberst. Whether it be listening to a Bright Eyes album on the bus on my way home from school, casting sideways glances at the dark-haired boy sitting by himself in the back seat. Whether it be daydreaming about leaving my hometown to go on a Jack Kerouac-style adventure across America while listening to "Moab" and "Sausalito". Whatever the scene or setting, Mr Oberst is someone who helped me transition from awkward, broody teenager, into the goofy and gleeful, folk-loving hippie that I am today.
There's something about his glum expression and pale complexion, somewhere between a young Trent Reznor and a Tim Burton character, that kind of makes me want to give him a big hug and tell him everything is going to be all right. His themes of adventure and escapism, his social commentaries and often vaguely sarcastic political opinions, his sentiments on love and death are all ones that I have always related to.
His latest solo album Upside Down Mountain does nothing short of tick every box on my list of current musical desires. It combines the pensive and faintly morbid poetic lyrics of his Bright Eyes days, with the happy and upbeat musical style of his songs backed by the Mystic Valley Band. It is filled with his usual longing and wanderlust, his delusions, his desires and of course (for what Conor Oberst album would be complete without it) - death.
His poetry is something that sparks my overactive imagination - in my mind it is all very real and visual, like reading a book, or listening to a story. In "Time Forgets" I can picture him in the howling wind with a cloud of scattered thoughts trailing behind him, like paint spatters or a trail of circling birds. "They say everyone has a choice to make, to be loved or to be free," is to me probably the most depressing statement I've heard from him in a long while. I tried not to think about it too much when I first heard that, but that's the problem/blessing with Conor Oberst's songs, they are thought-provoking.
There are some songs that sweep momentously through empowering notions, accompanied by horned instruments and bellowing choirs. There are others that are more personal and vulnerable, stripped back to just Oberst and a guitar here and there, such as "You Are Your Mothers Child" which I can't help but think is deeply personal.
This album is the thoughtful reflection of a man who has always had a way with words. It is the wind in your hair, a long road to a small town, an over-imaginative child in a leafy courtyard. It compliments everything our summer is setting up to be: travel and adventure, tall mountains and deep lakes, love and heartbreak, grand delusions, and small moments of realisation.
Upside Down Mountain is out now on Nonesuch Records. It features the sweet vocal stylings of Johanna and Klara Söderberg (First Aid Kit), as well as album artwork by Ian Felice (The Felice Brothers), and was produced by Jonathan Wilson. The name Upside Down Mountain comes from one of the songs "Lonely At The Top" and Oberst explains - “To me, it’s kind of a perspective thing. Sometimes you think life is made up of these big moments, these big decisions, but in the end it’s the minutes and the moments in between that give them shape."