Thursday, March 29, 2007


Bright Eyes' Cassadaga arrived in the mail today. This is already good news since the record isn't due in stores until April 10th! Either way, I figure I have time to write a review of sorts.

First of all, I can't express my excitement enough for this new marketing ploy of selling LP's on 1
80 gram vinyl accompanied with a code to download an MP3 version online. I've always preferred the LP format for both sound quality and the artwork, but the e-version allows for travel and manipulation.

This record has not disappointed. Conor Oberst and Mike Mogus prove themselves to be incredibly gifted producers once again with another beautifully recorded album. The clear sound of 180 gram vinyl cannot be ignored either. The soft vinyl audio sans the normal crackles and pops fits perfectly with Bright Eyes' alt-country/folk-revivalist sound.

In addition, the artwork is very cleverly printed in code. The album sleeve appears to be a mess of squiggly lines until you use the "Spectral Decoder" to reveal an even more cryptic design of a seal featuring pyramids and astrological figures. Artwork like this is why the album should never die out, no matter the format in which the music comes. It's really quite ingenious. In a time where music fans only download their most favorite tracks, ignoring the artistry of concept albums and cover art, Bright Eyes goes the opposite direction by challenging their listeners to put time in making meaning of the art.

Of course, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't appreciate the convenience of the MP3. I wouldn't buy an album on vinyl, no matter how much I love the format, if it wasn't for the MP3 feature. I can burn the album onto a disc for the car or download it to my iPod for travel. Music sharing is not ruining the music industry. Inferior product is. MP3's and CD's only allow for the music to be shared and enjoyed by a larger audience. Isn't that what every musician wants? I love that I get to enjoy the full concept of the album and the convenience of the MP3 in this packaging.

Side A
The album open in classic Bright Eyes' fashion with a random audio recording of a conversation or interview. "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" starts off with a mother or mother-type figure sharing advice about heading to Cassadaga...wherever that is. There are some dramatic orchestral noises before Oberst breaks in with a sparse acoustic ballad. The orchestral theatrics continue later in the song to create a dreamy sound scape that beautifully backs Oberst's strumming and sad utterances. "Four Winds" has been reviewed on this blog before. I'll stand by those words, only to add that this is the "radio hit" of the album. "If the Brakeman Turns My Way" comes next with Oberst and his sad-but-hopeful lyrics, a piano, and organ. The song's a bit of a yawner until it hits the chorus. Between Oberst's words, Mogus hollers, "Movin' out." It's rare that a Bright Eyes' song is saved by its chorus - mostly because the rest of the song is usually so
strong, leaving a catchy chorus unnecessary - but the chorus in this song is heartfelt and sure to make the girls cry.

Side B
I think I'm listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah when the fuzzed out acoustic guitar opens "Hot Knives". This is a fast-paced, mainstream-y BE song with an urgency that runs rampant through his music. This urgency is what typically sets Bright Eyes apart from most indie rockers (and often associates him with crappy emo bands). A movie-ready orchestral movement introduces "Make a Plan to Love Me". The dreamy chorus that repeats the song title sounds much like the Jenny Lewis record put out last year. The DuPree sisters of Eisley add the backing vocals to give the song a quixotically doo-wop texture.
The jammy "Soul Singer in A Session Band" is classic Oberst story-telling. He masterfully paints pictures of his life while using the metaphor of the mentioned soul singer. Observational poetry dominates as Oberst describes the clubs and streets he miserably traveled through with nods to the current political climate. He has done for roots and fold music what hardcore did for punk. He's given old music traditions a new energy and purpose. "Soul Singer" brings this fact home. "Classic Cars" is the oddball love song of the LP. Gillian Welch backs Oberst on the song that could be about her. He describes kissing an "older" country singer, bringing some light to her dismal life. First, Oberst utilized Emmylou Harris, now he looks toward Welch to provide the maturity to his words that he or his Saddle Creek friends cannot offer...yet.

Side C
"Middleman" is Oberst's "mid-life crisis" song that conveys his fears of becoming the insignificant link in the chain between listener, musician, and song. Again, we hear how Oberst's music is aged well beyond his years. What will he write about when he actually is old?
"Cleanse Song" opens dreamily with noise from what I believe is Coney Island or someplace on the ocean. What follows is a hopeful BE song that feels your pain. This is the kind of sad music that makes you feel as if you're not alone in your misery. It reminds you that your greatest joy often follows your lowest point. The somber "No One Would Riot for Less" is an epically depressing love song that imagines that the world really is coming to an end. The apocalypse rears its ugly head once again in a Bright Eyes song.

Side D
A song that sounds like it was straight from Digital Ash..., "Coat Check Dream Song" uses a less-electronic approach but has a similar urgency and feel found on his 2005 release. The theme of dreams and dreaming is carried on through this track. A repetitive message of leaving things alone and accepting their place in life flows through "I Must Belong Somewhere". It's as if these things have their place, so should I. There are even a few well-placed political jabs slipped in there for those who enjoy listening carefully to lyrics for those little gems that make you scream or at least smile. "Lime Tree" closes out the album. I interpret the opening lines as describing an abortion. "Since the operation I heard you're breathing just for one," Oberst warbles. The rest of the song takes us through the slow, disconnected feeling of a relationship ending under great direst. This is a sad song like only Bright Eyes can perform.

Conor Oberst continues to impress with his mature-beyond-his-years music and lyrics. This might not be my favorite Bright Eyes' album, but it is their most mature and well-produced release to date. I doubt Oberst will go down the VH1 route of rock stardom. He will most likely carry the momentum of this work to a masterpiece in one or two releases. I can't wait.

Side note...The single "Susan Miller Rag" was included in my package in 7" format. Where have all the 45's gone? The song itself would've fit nicely on the album, but something has to be cut and saved for rarities and b-sides releases of the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd love to "borrow" some Bright Eyes. Hope your misery is subsiding.

From Lincoln.....