American singer songwriter Connor Oberst is best known for his work in the band Bright Eyes, his new solo album Upside Down Mountain is his fifth release and out now on Nonsuch Records. Produced by Jonathon Wilson, Oberst explains this record is a return to an earlier style of song writing focused on the lyrical content;
“It’s more intimate or personal, if you will. Even if all my songs come from the same place, you make different aesthetic decisions along the way. For me, language is a huge part of why I make music. I’m not the greatest guitar player or piano player—I’m not the greatest singer, either—but I feel if I can come up with melodies I like that are fused with poetry I’m proud of, then that’s what I bring to the table. That’s why I’m able to do this.”
A deeply affecting album, Upside Down Mountain begins with “Time Forgot”. Blasts of guitar chords and Oberst’s recognizable vocals lead in before the words carry forward; “Everybody has a choice to make, to be loved or to be free”, the listener is reminded of his simple but profound use of language. More upbeat than your standard Bright Eyes fare “Zigzagging Toward the Light” carries on the spirited folk with an almost Shins-esque energy.
Hundreds of Ways” has a summery, country vibe but with poignant lyrics to contradict this; “I hope I am forgotten when I die” and continues more hopefully; “But there are hundreds of ways to get through the day, so you best find one”. “Artifact #1” breezes and whispers with a soft enchantment, it feels sad, but it’s not a sitting, dwelling sort of feeling, or track. “Lonely at the Top” references the album title; “It’s lonely at the top of that upside down mountain” and is a steady sombre tune with flickering, country guitar melodies.
Songs like “Kick” and “Governor’s Ball” bring back the energetic feel, in the former the lyrical content is still thought provoking however; “these people wanna live in the past, some golden age we never had”. “Night at Lake Unknown” is a soft enchanting listen before “You Are Your Mother’s Child” strips it back to a solo guitar and loud focused vocals.
“Common Knowledge” finishes Upside Down Mountain on a high, or rather, a low song full of heart and Oberst’s emotion filled words “it’s not the life that you imagined, so just go out with a bang like Hemingway, some will say you’re brave, some will say you ain’t”. You can’t hear Oberst’s voice without thinking of Bright Eyes, but saying that – the record doesn’t really sound like a Bright Eyes album. It’s a more developed solo collection that shows that despite having spent most of his life in the business, he’s still got it.
Reviewed by Heather Welsh.