Review: Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

All slide guitar, mariachi horns and lyrics about desert highways, Bright Eyes frontman and folk-rock darling Conor Oberst’s second solo release is an accomplished effort, which seems almost equal parts Mexico and his native Nebraska.

Gone is 2005’s Conor Oberst, who became famous for the iconic track ‘The First Day of My Life’ under his alter Ego Bright Eyes. Older and wiser – now married, and having had his fair share in political activism, including writing a song dedicated to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning – Oberst is more mature whilst still manag- ing to recruit the listener’s empathy in his now characteristic style. Whilst sometimes Bright Eyes could be overly sincere, he has now been at this long enough to know when to emote and when to hold back. His trademark quavering voice is eerily triumphant in all its melancholy emo-kid glory, but here the vocals manage to elicit sympathy rather than coming across as whiny. He seems to be enjoying himself, and why not? His indie credentials (Park Ave., Mon- sters of Folk, Bright Eyes) speak for themselves.

The sound of the album draws comparisons to the likes of Radical Face, Tallest Man on Earth and Villagers, opening with the triumphant ballad ‘Time Forgot’, before the reflective lyrics of ‘Zigzagging Towards The Light’. “Oh how circumstances change, feels unmistakable from where I came” he croons, drawing on the state of flux in both his music and his life in general. The angst is sometimes obvious in tracks such as ‘It’s Lonely At The Top’, where he laments that “freedom is the opposite of love”.

Things do take a turn for the more upbeat with the high-life flavoured ‘Hundreds of Ways’ and ‘Kick’, which, with its heavier guitar and plectrum interludes, could be one to drive to. But the album goes full circle and closes with the tearjerkers ‘You Are Your Mother’s Child’ and the slide guitar driven slow number ‘Double life’.

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Perhaps the only complaint one could have is that it is too Conor. There is a certain sense of déjà vu with regards to 2008’s self-titled Conor Oberst. This is no bad thing though, considering the potent mixture of sun-drenched guitar licks and sultry acoustic that makes a return. After all, why fix something that isn’t broken?