Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

Band: Bright Eyes
Album: Cassadaga
Release Date: April 10, 2007
Label: Saddle Creek

Cassadaga tells the full story that last month’s Four Winds EP hinted at. And believe it or not, our favorite tortured songwriter is still coming down and still finding himself, oh and he still hates Bush. However, just because some of the motifs remain unchanged does not mean that Cassadaga is a pure and simple rehash. Much to my pleasure, it is potentially one of the best-produced and most full albums from Bright Eyes. The tunes are ripe with melodic backup vocals and are a strong showing from the full band.

As you may have noticed, if you’ve read some of my other reviews, I’m just not a fan of excess talking in albums, whether it is introduction or dénouement. While the song at the heart of “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” is earnest and telling of the albums themes, you have to suffer through nearly four minutes of babble framing the six minute song. What I concluded about “Four Winds” previously holds true. However, now, within the full context of the album the songs questioning air emanates more fully and much more true.

The complete sound of the full band rings true in the high points of “If the Brakeman Turns My Way,” and in “Hot Knives” and “Make a Plan to Love Me.” The backup vocals shine brightly in the sometimes-rough sound of “Hot Knives.” This song gives great insight into the album’s theme. The song is about finding oneself and moving on. Ultimately this theme of change is central to Conor Oberst’s tone for the album. Amongst its at times Irish-esque violins “Soul Singer in a Session Band” brings questions of musical direction to the forefront, hardly a new topic. Yet, Oberst’s coarse charm gives this nearly exhausted focus new life.

Part of Oberst’s soul-searching revolves around substance abuse. It becomes openly apparent in “Cleanse Song” comes right out and says it. Possibly one of my favorite moments of the disc comes in this song “On a detox walk / Over Glendale Park / Over sidewalk chalk / Some rope read ‘start over.’” The theme slightly hidden under a creative guise but is easily interpreted in “If the Brakeman Turns My Way.”

What would a Bright Eyes release be without some quibbling with George Bush and some questioning of religion? In “Classic Cars” Oberst states: “And I keep long for that blindfold faith,” which furthers “Four Winds’” suggestion that “The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran's mute / If you learn them all together you get close to the truth.” “No One Would Riot for Less” is full up with politics: “From the madness of the governments / To the vengeance of the sea,” which seems to lend itself to the ever popular topic of war in Iraq and possibly [Bush’s] handling of hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.

Among the homogenous sound of the full band, “Middleman” is a clear stand out, which emphasizes the CD’s overall country or folk sound. It’s got a western moving sound to it almost spectral at times. In Oberst’s search for himself he finds that “The gray areas are mine / The in-between, the absentee.” As if in his journey he has lost his identity and now waivers in limbo unsure where to go next.

Within the folk twang of “I Must Belong Somewhere” I sounds as if out hero has finally found his place. “Everything, it must belong somewhere / I know that now, that's why I'm staying here,” could it be true? Just as we’re beginning to believe that finally maybe our grief-stricken musician has found himself and found sobriety the album’s final track “Lime Tree” seems to contradict this comforting thought, where yet again Oberst’s trademark agonized words surface. Yet, this is a perfect ending for the Bright Eye’s fan. What would become of this brilliant songwriter if he were perfectly happy?

I like to think of it as musical schadenfreude on the part of Bright Eyes fans everywhere, but it is Oberst’s tortured soul that fuels his poetic lyrics. And yet again, his witty take on personal suffering makes for a brilliant album. And this time, Cassadaga is absolutely full not only of talented songwriting, but also it is bursting at the seams with shining music to accompany his distressed prose.

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