Monday, April 09, 2007

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes - "Four Winds"
Bright Eyes - "No One Would Riot For Less"

Writing about anything that Conor Oberst does (with Bright Eyes or otherwise) is always a delicate process. There are subtleties involved that are not often applied in most record reviews. For instance, I cannot simply compare Bright Eyes’ new full-length album Cassadaga (Saddle Creek) to the rest of the Oberstian catalog (a common thing to do), but I have to keep in mind that this record must be set against all other records being made – not just his own. This is the case simply because Oberst has made a shit ton of records. Seriously, I think the tally is up to 11 (this being number 11):

Commander Venus – “Do You Feel At Home” (1995)
Commander Venues – “The Uneventful Vacation” (1997)
Bright Eyes – “Letting Off the Happiness” (1998)
Bright Eyes – “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997” (200)
Bright Eyes – “Fevers and Mirrors” (2000)
Desaparecidos – “Read Music/Speak Spanish” (2002)
Bright Eyes – “Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground” (2002)
Bright Eyes – “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” (2005)
Bright Eyes – “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (2005)
Bright Eyes – “Noise Floor” (2006
Bright Eyes – “Cassadaga” (2007)

Not to mention the dozen or so E.P.s and singles.

So, with this in mind, I will give Oberst’s new album two grades:

Grade (within the realm of music): A
Grade (within the context of the Bright Eyes catalog): B+

Bright Eyes is definitely making better music than most – if not all minus ten or so – bands currently producing. However, having been a CB listener for years (this is my seventh Oberst-related review), I can’t help but look back on Happiness and Mirrors as the “Golden Era,” but this is due to the fact that those were the first records I bought that got me into his music and, well, fell in love with (Jon Graef is rolling in his cheez-o-meter grave right now).

Personal anecdotes aside, this is a great record, simply put. The production is better than ever (way to go Mike Mogis), the songs are catchy, the performance is top notch, and the lyrics are of course the continuing trump card of what makes Bright Eyes so powerful.

Oberst’s voice is truly filling out. There are less warbly words (though I like those), less missed notes and a greater focus on not only what he says, but how he says it.

Most press outlets will say something to the affect of “this boy genius/wunderkind is now a 27-year-old man who is exploring his post-adolescent loneliness with a country twang,” but I won’t – oh, and they’ll have to say something about Bob Dylan somewhere in there, that counts as two shots. However, on the correct side of the argument – my side - Oberst has always made great music no matter his age, and people should probably just relax about it.

Cassadaga has two hits, nine goodies, one waltz and one classic Oberst intro. “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” begins the album with a phone call and some static. Ambient noise and a pedal high-frequency tone fill the background as we get a glimpse into Oberst’s fascination with Cassadaga, the namesake Florida-based psychic/spiritual community that will soon be flooded with hipster tourists looking for a piece of mind – the same piece that Oberst still seems to be looking for. The song sets the tone of the album and bleeds into a single acoustic guitar gently laying down the foundation for Oberst to quickly list the issues he’ll address on the album.

Throughout the album, Oberst takes a step back for a handful of instrumental interludes, which shows that not only with age is he developing wisdom within his songwriting, but also patience, building and growing moods rather than simply dropping them on the listener.

“Four Winds” is the hit that radio - and probably your parents - will latch onto. Full of endearing fiddle lines and a wonderful standard Oberst rant, the song contains the most single potential and will put the album on the Billboard charts because, well, his rant is far more well-mannered than any in the past and it is surrounded by an undeniably killer chorus. Which is an interesting point to make for the album: most, if not all, the tracks on the album have obvious melodic hooks rather than just lyrical hooks – further evidence of that patience I was talking about.

“No One Would Riot For Less” is another gem reminiscent of Lifted and could replace any deep track on said album. A soft breakdown of the band to just Oberst with his guitar, soft female backing vocals and flighty strings and pedal steel in the background swells into a grandiose string arrangement (compliments of Nate Walcott) only to bust into the most emotionally charged moment on the album.

Oberst spent most of 2006 wandering the country, and Cassadaga reflects that sense of a life absent of roots. Unfortunately, Oberst will not be able to top some of his past efforts, and that’s just the price he will have to pay for making some amazing music.

MySpace Page
Buy it here
(Ian Anderson)

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Blogger Jon said...

"Jon Graef is rolling in his cheez-o-meter grave right now"

Actually, it's more like I've become accutely aware of my surroundings (looks around, pumps fist in the air!)

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Best Review I Have Ever Read, You (The Writer), Have The Exact Same Concept Of Reality. I Would Love To Hear From You & Your Opinions On My Music, Any Criticism Could Make Me Finally Ready...For What?? You Tell Me.
Alan K. Fink

Please Give Me Feedback If You Read This Man, I'm Making A Decent Splash.. Any Advice From Anyone Would Be Amazing..

1:02 AM  

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