If you are looking for music of CONOR OBERST in the record store, you should not just scan the rows for the letter ‘O’. It’s best to start with ‘B’ for BRIGHT EYES, have a stop at ‘D’ for DESAPARECIDOS and then make your way to ‘M’ for MONSTERS OF FOLK to get at least a small impression the musical work of the 34-year-old singer-songwriter.
His new record you will find under ‘O’, since with Upside Down Mountain OBERST continues his work as a solo artist. Still the the album features several old acquaintances of him, for instance Macey Taylor, the bassist of CONOR OBERST‘s Mystic Valley Band and Blake Mills, one of his session guitarists. Besides there are Johanna and Klara Söderberg of FIRST AID KIT who supported OBERST as background singers in many of the songs.
Their voices harmonize with his distinctive, often trembling, voice and go well with the country and folk tone of the record and the coherent mix of different guitars, vibraphone, trumpets, flutes, drums and piano.
Once again CONOR OBERST proves his songwriting qualities – in every track there are little poetry pearls like ‘I wanna walk in that howling wind ’til it scatters all my thoughts / sit alone on that riverbank ’til I forget that I can talk’ in the first song Time Forgot or ‘True love it hides like city stars’ in Zigzagging Toward The Light.
And once again OBERST tells stories of the shattered souls out there who try to cope with this world but helplessly have to witness the disillusioning mercilessness of destiny.
But it’s not that one grows tired of the precise and touching observations the Omaha-born singer collects like ‘little diamonds’ and then weaves into his songs that sometimes are beautifully sad like Desert Island Questionnaire and Common Knowledge or involve the realization that freedom and love are just incompatible like Time Forgot and Lonely at the Top. When you have something to loose, then you are scared to loose it, OBERST stated in a recent interview with NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION.
This time there is also a note of optimism, at least in some lines or in the tempo of some songs. ‘‘There are hundreds of way to get through the day’, it says in Hundreds of Ways and if it’s still not getting better, then ‘there’s a better life on the other side’, a Double Life.
‘Everyone is somehow afraid of change and so this song is a bit of pep talk or something like ‘yeah, don’t look down, don’t focus on the fear. Just go for it and you’ll probably be happy‘, he explains the meaning of Double Life.
‘Probably’, but not guaranteed. CONOR OBERST is not the one for big promises and he doesn’t even try to offer easy solutions for unhappy people in his songs. The unpretentious sincerity and the disarming irony are the strongest points of his music and of Upside Down Mountain. And after listening to it, all the unhappy people will at least feel a little less alone, guaranteed.
‘Upside Down Mountain’ is another prove of CONOR OBERST‘s songwriting genius and the recurring musical elements make it a coherent but still varied record.
NBHAP Rating: 4 /5