Despite all of his changes, you still know what you’re looking for from Conor Oberst. The once-and-future Bright Eyes released touching music under that moniker up through 2007’s Cassadega (QRO review), before going to his own name for Conor Oberst, and then working with others in the country-folk scene as part of Monsters of Folk (QRO album review) and fronting his own band, Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band (QRO live review). He returned to Bright Eyes with 2011’s The People’s Key (QRO review), and now returns to just Conor Oberst with Upside Down Mountain, a simpler record that gives you the straight Bright/Oberst experience.
From the first notes of opener “Time Forgot”, Mountain brings you the Conor ‘Bright Eyes’ Oberst you remember from The O.C. (QRO Music of The O.C.) way back when. It’s got the heartfelt emotion that can get a bit treacle (“Time Forgot”, “Lonely At the Top”, “Double Life”) but can also work – the fatherly “You Are Your Mother’s Child” somehow manages not to feel like an overdone “Cats In the Cradle”, and “Desert Island Questionnaire” is effective sad storytelling. Oberst also brings some cheer, like the wry “Hundreds of Ways” or the catchy ‘sympathy for a young Kennedy’ “Kick”.
There is a definite country strain throughout Upside Down Mountain, like the twang-loss to “Night at Lake Unknown” or pedal steel guitar of “Governor’s Ball” (though that fun song also has a horn section). But mostly, this is the Conor Oberst you’ve been looking for