Conor Oberst Review: Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst

Upside Down Mountain


Conor Oberst, when speaking about his new album, Upside Down Mountain:

“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.”

Notice, Oberst knows himself very well.  He specifically points out that he isn’t the greatest guitar player, piano player, or singer.  But, he never comes out and says he isn’t the greatest lyricist around today, because he may very well be.  Confidence begets success, and even if Oberst isn’t completely confident in every facet of his life, he controls his musical output with a rare ease.

Upside Down Mountain is just another very good offering in what is turning out to be a very special career for Conor Oberst.  I remember when the first couple Bright Eyes albums came out, and everyone was really pumped about him.  As impressed as I was then, who would have ever thought Oberst would put together a career resembling Neil Young in both the range of genres he has covered as well as the transcendent songwriting capability.

The songs on Oberst’s latest trend toward the folk country work he has done, although I don’t think he has dug this deep emotionally since I’m Wide Awake, Its Morning.  What’s interesting is that in digging this deep, Oberst is rarely this hopeful or positive.  On “Hundreds of Ways”, Oberst speaks to the value of finding that one thing in life that will get you through the day.  Is this the guy who wrote “We Are Nowhere and Its Now” or Michael Franti disguised as Todd Cleary?

todd cleary

If there’s one complaint to be lodged against Upside Down Mountain, it is the over-produced nature that creeps up occasionally on some of the tracks.  There is just a weird adult contemporary vibe that I don’t think would be present if Oberst kept things a little more raw. But even then, this vibe is fleeting, and Oberst powers right through with his signature ballads.

If I’m comparing Conor Oberst’s career to Neil Young’s, Upside Down Mountain is certainly not comparable to Young’s sixth album, On the Beach.  But lets give Oberst a break here, Upside Down Mountain is at least nicely comparable to Comes a Time, or maybe even Zuma.  I’ll be revisiting this one for the rest of the year I’m sure, and probably picking a new favorite track every time.


Can’t Miss:  “Time Forgot”, “Hundreds of Ways”, “Desert Island Questionnaire”, “You Are Your Mother’s Child”, “Common Knowledge”

Can’t Hit:  “Zigzagging Toward the Light”

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