Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain- Maturing isn’t replacing the old with the new. It isn’t growing past something you once believed or giving up your idealism for the perceived black and white of the world around you. No, maturing is about adapting, and more importantly, growing in who and what you are in order to be a better person; a stronger human being. And when it comes to artistic endeavors, especially songwriting, maturing is a double edged sword. While you may expand and improve upon your craft, there will be fans and admirers who wish to hold on to the old-you, what was comfortable and spoke to them when they were most vulnerable and found that ray of hope in the music you created in that moment. And when they realize that period is over, many will refuse to accept the next step in your endeavors, but when it comes down to it, the best will mature right along with you, brothers and sisters willing to realize Peter Pan was just a story and what is wonderful about life is that the world and its people are in a constant motion and erosion of change.
I have been a fan of Conor Oberst and and his musical outlets for a little over a decade now. I can easily admit that his solo work, Bright Eyes, and various other projects have been the soundtrack to my life since I was a budding teen. Along the way I have found myself maturing along side him with each new album he has released. Upside Down Mountain, in a way, is a culmination point for Mr. Oberst. Anyone who is familiar with his previous work will immediately recognize these new songs as his. They have his distinct color stroked and splashed in every crevice of this album. More than any other album, Upside Down Mountain is garnering Mr. Oberst more media attention than I can recall from previous years. And I could not be happier for the man.
Upside Down Mountain is sonically appetizing. Mr. Oberst may be best known for his indie alternative-folk stylings, but he is also well versed in rock, electronics and beats, and the power of orchestral instruments. This new album combines the best of his musical prowess. In ‘Time Forgot’ and ‘Hundreds of Ways’, you can hear his more recent musical inclinations in the expanded vocals with lush harmonies, but also in the percussion of the songs. They both have their own beats, but rely on big percussion to help drive the songs. ‘Time Forgot’ has booming blasts of single downbeat hits that play off of the skittered guitars and keys. While, on the other hand, ‘Hundreds of Ways’ has busy drums and percussion that give the song a tribal-folk, or island-dance inspired rhythm. But these songs still meld seamlessly with songs like ‘Night at Lake Unknown’ and ‘You Are Your Mother’s Child’ which hearken to Mr. Oberst’s stripped-down acoustic wonders that hit at the heart of any listener. Then there are thrusts of his work with the electric guitar, that indie southern rock strut that comes out in songs like ‘Zigzagging Toward the Light’ and ‘Kick’.
Even with all this, what lifts Conor Oberst in another plane is his poetry, the lyrics that cut deep to what it means to be human. While his earlier work may be seen as more idealistic and cynical about relationships and just trying to make it another day in the modern age, this album contains some of his strongest and most polished lyrics yet. In ‘Hundreds of Ways’ he sings, “It took centuries to build these twisted cities/ It took seconds to reduce them down to dust”. He is a master craftsman at creating imagery with only a few lines of verse. Or there’s the the lyrics, “…the trappings of a name you never could escape/these people wanna live in the past/ Some Golden Age that they never had”, in ‘Kick’. Although he is singing this song to a person named Kick, I can’t help but interpret these words as a reference to those expecting Mr. Oberst to be the bard of tortured young souls who found solace and a kindred spirit in his early work. “Everywhere I go/ the doors fly open/but I want out once I’m inside”, are just a sampling of the poetry sung in, ‘Night at Lake Unknown’.
I could go on for days about the lyrics of Mr. Oberst, being an aspiring writer myself, this album is packed to the brim and yearning to be unraveled. Upside Down Mountain is beautiful and a testament to what a truly great songwriter can accomplish. He keeps growing with each new album, proving art and the human experience are not stagnant, but a wonderful struggle to find meaning in the lowest of places…10/10