NPR Story
4:33 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Conor Oberst Releases Intimate New Solo Album

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 6:04 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Since he first began attracting attention with the band Bright Eyes in 1998, Conor Oberst has been busy. He's founded two record labels, started several bands and recorded a prolific amount of songs. The Nebraska singer largely avoided releasing albums under his own name, but this week brings a new solo album. It's called "Upside Down Mountain." Reviewer Tom Moon says it's his most intimate and engaging work in years.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: It's a special talent, sounding like damaged goods on demand.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONOR OBERST: (Singing) Polished my shoes, I bought a brand new hat, moved to a town, the town took off.

MOON: Lots of singer/songwriters try it. Some manage a vague sense of hurt and that's about it. They don't have stories to tell. This is not Conor Oberst's problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OBERST: (Singing) I want to walk in that howling winter that's scattered all my thoughts.

MOON: Oberst takes advantage of his wounded vocal affectation, uses it to layer meaning into carefully wrought songs. This one begins as a fairly ordinary account of a wandering soul. As we hear about what he longs for, a profile emerges of a person hounded by shadows, trying to escape something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OBERST: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

MOON: Throughout this album, Oberst's characters struggle with the quagmire of memory. A bunch of the songs explore what it means to hold on to the last glimmer of a very much vanished love.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OBERST: (Singing) Life can't compete with memories that never have to change.

MOON: Alongside those raw moments are more even-tempered examples of storytelling. One of them borrows and then improves upon the theme of Harry Chapin's ode, "Cats in the Cradle."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OBERST: (Singing) I remember the day you appeared on this earth, (unintelligible) like the ocean got blood on my shirt, from my camera angle, it looked like it hurt, but your mom had a big ol' smile. We drove you home, saw your yellowing skin, packed a few things and drove you back again. Stayed up all night worrying, wondering what was going to make it better.

MOON: That is surprisingly old school songwriting. Turns out Conor Oberst can work at conceit with the best of them. This new collection shows Oberst has grown significantly as a craftsman, but he's held onto the elements that made his earlier writings so compelling, the wordy fever dream verses, that perpetually troubled delivery. He calls this record "Upside Down Mountain," but it sounds like a career peak.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OBERST: (Singing) Don't (unintelligible) don't you look so scared. Don't get so...

CORNISH: The new album by Conor Oberst is "Upside Down Mountain." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.