Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga Review

Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has been compared to both a goat and a modern-day Bob Dylan. Although I disagree with both assertions, he leans much closer to the latter comparison on his newest album, "Cassadaga." The goat comparisons, admittedly, weren't far off. His early albums like "Fevers and Mirrors" and "Letting Off The Happiness," despite amazing lyrics, were unstructured, not always greatly produced, and just seemed like the screams, shouts, and rants of an emo-kid. Some people got it, some didn't.

With his 2003 album "Lifted, or, The Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ears To The Ground" something happened. This, in my opinion was a watershed record, and he still has yet to completely live up to this album. In it's entirety it's one of the most perfect albums I have ever heard, and tells this grand narrative of Oberst's exploits in living the "nothing is truth." In the end of the CD it left him in a hospital bed from a drug and alcohol overdose.

Dual-released "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," and "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn," seemed like a likely following to "Lifted." In "Digital Ash", as the title implies, deals mainly with contemplations of death and what happens afterwards. "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" seemed like this search for meaning and not necessarily a rejection of it. Both albums were incredible. Production was much different, much more polished, and so on.

And now after a couple years comes "Cassadaga." The title of the album is taken from a small town in Florida, that is a very "spiritual" town where psychics and mystic lives. Oberst visited the town and was inspired enough to title his CD after it. The first track off the album, "Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)," seemed reminiscent of "Lifted"s first song, "The Big Picture." There's talking to begin the album that slowly leads into the song. After that, the album takes off, only to sputter once or twice before riding off in the distance. "Four Winds" and "If The Brakeman Turns My Way" are superb tracks, the first sounding more country than anything else on the album.

The fourth track, "Hot Knives," is probably my favorite off the album so far. One of the best lines is in this song: "I've made love, yeah I've been f*cked -- so what." It seems this and another soon to be mentioned line make an adequate description of this album. When many artists, especially in the emo/indie genre like to stick with the same problems that they have album after album after album, Oberst truly writes about what he is going through, and intends on figuring things out. His problems have changed, his attitude has changed (for the most part), and this can clearly be shown.

The most skippable track for me at the moment is the next song on the CD: "Make a Plan to Love Me." It's just not my style I guess.

"Soul Singer In a Session Band," "Classic Cars," "Middleman," and "Cleanse Song," are all beatifully written and scored songstories. I find myself having to listen to them over and over again to get new meaning, hear lyrics that I might have missed, and so on. "No One Would Riot For Less," is a chilling song about the frailty of life and living and the futility of war. It seems like a departure from the rest of the album, but at the same time it seems to fit perfectly.

"Coat Check Dream Song" is odd. But good.

"I Must Belong Somewhere" is a charming song that is a HUGE departure from his previous works, in "Lifted" and so on. It's often encouraging to hear Oberst change and realize that there is some sort of purpose, some sort of belonging.

Last and most definitely not least, "Lime Tree" is a song I dreamed about recently in a very creepy nightmare. This song is interesting, especially after the previous track. It sounds like it's someone trying to reconcile both sides, purpose and randomness, the "known and the unkown." It's a chilling reminder that we don't have answers, but we do have hope, but we can't know anything for sure, that there's life and death at the same time. And oddly, but almost perfectly, when it seems like there's more to say, more song to be sung, Oberst ends it with "I felt lost and found with every step I took."