Conor Oberst

Upside Down Mountain

Nonesuch

May 19, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Conor Oberst sounds as though he has been slowly stepping away from the musical quirks he used to capture the indie rock community's attention way back when. Reserved in word count, less emphatic on delivery, and more polished in production, Upside Down Mountain almost feels un-ironic.

Opening track "Time Forgot," with its distant arena drums and relentless sparkling guitar lines, is perhaps the best example of this. The strong lyrics and measured rhythmic vocal delivery over strummed acoustic guitar present here is the recognizable heart of Oberst's style, but only as bookends, with the bulk of the track being swallowed whole by innocuous instrumentation.

"Hundreds of Ways" walks much the same road. It opens with the line, "What a thing to be a witness to the sunshine/What a dream to just be walking on the ground," which reads as uninspired and earnestly optimistic. Then in the next breath Oberst opines, "What a time to live among the ash and remnants of a love that came before/And I'm still looking for that now." Whatever impact was generated by that redeeming line is lost again to the music, taking light cues from Paul Simon's Graceland that seem to be at odds with the song's country roots.

However, Oberst is in rare form on "You Are Your Mother's Child." Stripped down to vocals and acoustic from start to finish, it has the strongest songwriting on the album. The sentimental lyrics chronicling a boy's life from birth to young adulthood deliver beautiful imagery and nostalgia imbued with melancholy and a little humor ("I remember the day you appeared on this earth...from my camera angle it looked like it hurt, but your momma had a big ol' smile").

Oberst's unmistakable voice, songwriting style, and melodic tendencies ground the album, but you have to wade through generic instrumentation and glossy production to find it. (www.conoroberst.com)

Author rating: 6/10

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