Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
If you’re a boy genius, it must be pretty difficult growing up. There’s a weight of expectations after all. And if you’re an angst-ridden, spokesperson-for-a-generation, one-great-album-after-another, sort-of-sounds-like-you’re-speeding-but-you’re-probably-not boy genius, it must be really tough. Where do you go from there? Well, after a few missteps, quite a few of them with the Mystic Valley Band, Conor Oberst has proven that it’s possible to be a tortured and unnaturally productive boy genius and yet grow up to be a level-headed thirtysomething musician who can still turn out a fine album that deserves more than just a brief listen and a perfunctory ‘meh’. For one thing, Upside Down Mountain contains its usual share of Oberstisms. “I’ll never know if I’m delusional, I just believe that I am not”, he confesses on ’Time Forgot’. “If someone says they know for certain, They’re selling something certainly”, he insists, and not without a good deal of insight, on ‘Artifact #1′. For another, he’s enlisted the help of the Söderberg sisters and their First Aid Kit. Even if they’re repaying a certain debt, they sound just as fantastic as ever. And then there’s the arrangement. There’s a comforting country twang at times. ‘Lonely At The Top’ and ‘Night At Lake Unknown’ being good examples. But what stands out is the sheer variety of sounds. The washes of piano that come out of absolutely nowhere on ‘Enola Gay’. The twinkling mix of guitars, keyboards, and percussion on ‘Time Forgot’. Plus there’s the can’t-get-them-out-of-your-head melodies on songs like ‘Kick’, ‘Desert Island Questionnaire’, and the sublime closer ‘Common Knowledge’. Sometimes the term ‘genius’ is attributed too liberally. Conor Oberst, though, was a genuine boy genius. Upside Down Mountain suggests that his genius half-life is considerable indeed.