Conor Oberst released his “Upside Down Mountain” yesterday, and I’m pretty sure my heart stopped when I downloaded it and hit “play”.
Opening up with “Time Forgot”, there’s a ridiculously good vibe that I can’t shake. It’s so well written, Oberst’s vocals carrying over the dreamy tune, and it’s beautiful. “Boarded a train to take my memories back, make up for time that I have lost. I’ll never know if I’m delusional, I just believe that I am not. I’m gonna work for my sanity, give it everything I got. Though so far I have cheated death, I know someday I’ll get caught, just living.” It feels more grown-up, but also like he’s tracing back his roots. It doesn’t feel like Bright Eyes, or Desa, or Monsters of Folk- it’s a legitimate Conor Oberst album. This tune has a little bit of everything for everyone, lovely harmonies and a fantastic surrealistic almost movie-soundtrack backtrack. It opens up the record in the best way possible.
“Zigzagging Toward the Light” is stunning. It has a bit of a Cat Stevens feel, or could be on the Harold and Maude soundtrack. It gave me chills. “I’m blessed with a heart that doesn’t stop. My minds a weathervane it spins around just like a to, knows what the winds of fortune bring in the season of the witch. Home is a perjury, a parlor trick, an urban myth,” opens up the track, and it bops into an extremely accessible chorus. This is the song that’s a definite crowd-pleaser, explaining why it’s what he chose to perform on Fallon.
I couldn’t help but be teary eyed when I heard “Artifact #1”. It’s a sweeping ballad that feels like he’s reaching out for what once was, feeling tragically desperate but more reflective than depressive. “I know no one will believe me, but I don’t want a second chance to be an object of desire if that means slipping through your hands. If I had tried to make you mine, you would have walked away. I can’t compete with memories- they never have to change.” The man knows how to tug at my heartstrings, following this line up with a swelling instrumental as my eyes swelled and welled up with tears. This is definitely my favorite on the album, and my current go-to track.
“Lonely at the Top” has a twang to it, but also is reminiscent of a lot of tunes on “Outer South”. He’s exploring more of the softer and less emo/indie feel that he was stuck in for a bit. This tune separates him from that, and he’s matured with it. He’s easily the greatest songwriter of our generation, and with the sheer complexity of the instrumentals of this song, he’s packed a punch and left a real impression with just a few simple tricks and his crooning voice.
Another Stevens-inspired jam is “Enola Gay”, intense and passionate. It’s so well-written and the different components of it, from the drums to the wistful guitar and hints of piano, and the almost-altcountry grandiose sound wisks you away into something comforting. It’s easy to fall in love with the rich tones and change in direction.
“Double Life” is an effortless breezy mopey tune that brings you back (if you’re a long time Oberst fan) to some of his good ol’ days. It could be a song on a Bright Eyes album, if you made it a bit more dreary and barebones. As an absolute fanatic of the man, it’s the most hard-hitting song musically for me, taking me back to car rides or nights laying in bed listening to his voice pulse through my earbuds. It feels nostalgic and lovely and warming.
As for “Kick”, it’s a total toe-tapper, and I can’t get enough of it. If it doesn’t appeal to you at least a little bit, you’re lying. It’s catchy and fun and could be a radio tune. It’s a pop anthem, the glaringly sore thumb on the record, but somehow it works. It’s unlike any other song’s feel, but is refreshing and when it came on, it caught me by pleasant surprise. It’s a clever way to keep the listener on their toes.
“Night at Lake Unknown” is a soft sad song that’s the most simplistic on the album. “I don’t need a concentration to know when I’m in pain. When I lost myself I lost you by extension,” is gut wrenching, all too real and made me choke up a bit. He then puts more salt in the wound- “Everywhere I go the doors fly open, but I run out once outside. When I break my heart I know that yours gets broken, I just wish that kept me in line but I can’t live outside the moment and it just keeps leaving me behind.”
“Desert Island Questionnaire” is incredible and I’m praying he plays it live when I see him in July. It feels really analyzed, like it was the song he was most nitpicky with, because there’s not a single flaw. It’s so polished and clean, and I love that. I can really see him playing this live and having it be widely received, really positively. It also feels like it could even be on a movie soundtrack. Overall, it feels expansive and beautiful, and really versatile.
The album ends with “Common Knowledge”, a gentle and introspective piece. It feels contemplative and deliberate, every word picked carefully and the strumming pattern matching up with the emotion. It’s a lull and it flows under the words, carrying it along. It’s heavy and deep, melodically, musically, lyrically, emotionally. Oberst leaves us with his final words, haunting and simple- “So just go out with a bang like Hemingway. Some will say you’re brave, some will say you ain’t.”
This album was exactly what I needed. It’s a complete masterpiece, an emotional roller coaster, and his best solo release yet.