This 2014 album ( a debut album with Nonesuch Records) is definitely some of Oberst’s best work. It represents a sumptuous immersion in 70’s California folk pop, and is the most immediately charming album he has ever made and as its title implies, it’s a real study in contrasts, a glance up to the heavens and a glimpse into the abyss.
Co-producer Jonathan Wilson, playing and leading a Laurel Canyon big band’s worth of guitars and keyboards, frames the wreckage and Oberst’s wishfulness like a younger David Lindley. That earthy luxury is also lined with gripping unease: the prickly electronics in the soft buoyancy of ‘Time Forgot‘; the Nashville-via-Tijuana noir of ‘Artifact #1‘; the disruptive drum crash, like a slammed door, in ‘Double Life‘. Easily the most charming song on the album – hence my “Dad Rock” label – is ‘You Are Your Mother’s Child‘. But like Neil Young‘s ‘Harvest’ and Jackson Browne‘s ‘Late for the Sky’, this is dreaming stalked by despair, then charged with rebound. “There are hundreds of ways,” Oberst sings in that song, “to get through the day. . . . Now you just find one.”
Here’s a good place to start.