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Monday, April 09, 2007

Bright Eyes: "Cassadaga"

After 2005's brilliant "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" and out-of-left-field "Digital Ash In a Digital Urn," Bright Eyes was due for a well-deserved break. Two years later and fans are once again graced with the group's presence, this time in the form of "Cassadaga." I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest Bright Eyes fan out there, mostly out of my lukewarm feelings for front man Conor Oberst, but I'm wise enough to point out talent when it's apparent. And Oberst is one of the most talented and gifted songwriters out there! "Cassadaga" not only serves as a powerful reminder of this fact, but as one of, if not the best Bright Eyes record to date!

The album begins with the haunting string orchestration of "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)." Two minutes into the horror movie-esque intro, and they suddenly drop out, leaving only a simple acoustic guitar and Oberst's classic rumbling vocals singing, "It's a kill or be killed..." It's a fantastic way to start out the album, and it leads into what is probably one of the best Bright Eyes songs in recent memory, "Four Winds." Here, the strings take the stylistically country route, or what can affectionately be called "fiddling." Oberst is at his absolute best, conveying his emotions spectacularly as he howls, "When great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon, oh she just can't sustain." The song is infecting, and entertaining. So much so that you might even find yourself singing along after a few listens on repeat.

Likewise, "If the Brakeman Turns My Way" is another fantastic song that has classic Bright Eyes written all over it. It features a particularly memorable melody, in which Conor sings, "Got a cricket for a conscience, always looks the other way." "Hot Knives" features an uncharacteristically distorted guitar and even more of Oberst's insightful and inspiring lyrics. Once again, the strings are at full-force when Oberst sings "So give me black lights, so give me hot knives, on a dance floor no one tells time." This powerful and upbeat song, gives way to the exact opposite in "Make a Plan to Love Me," an unabashed love song complete with beautiful female vocals in the background. At times, it can sound like a 50s-style ballad, something you'd imagine hearing at an Under the Sea-themed prom in 1959.

"Soul Singer in a Session Band" features the worst aspects of Conor Oberst's vocals, but at the same time it offers up some of his better lyrics on the album. Take, for example, the ironic "I had a lengthy discussion about the power of myth with a postmodern author that didn't exist" or the more-realistic "I was a hopeless romantic, now I'm just turning tricks." The band feels as cohesive as they ever do here, and the fiddling is once again in full-force. "Cleanse Song" features a barely-there band, and instead showcases some impressive percussion and what I believe is an Oboe (though I must admit it's been a while). "No One Would Riot for Less" is a haunting glimpse at the state of the world. Oberst's vocals are effective here, as he laments "Little soldier, little insect, you know war has no heart. it will kill you in the sunshine or happily in the dark." It is a beautiful song. Disturbing, but utterly beautiful.

By the time the album comes to a close, you can't help but be impressed by it. "Cassadaga" is a pleasant surprise for me. As I said, I'm not the biggest Bright Eyes fan in the world and had this album been anything less than brilliant, I would've been happy to dismiss it as such. But "Cassadaga" is an amazing album that is filled from end to end with brilliant songwriting, awesome production value, and unquestionable power. Like most Bright Eyes albums, the listener is sure to experience a wide array of emotions while listening to it, and the listening experience is made so much better because of it. If you've never heard a Bright Eyes album before, you absolutely have to listen to this album! On that note, if you've been a fan for years, Bright Eyes has given you their all in what is sure to be one of 2007's best albums.

Recommended for fans of Bright Eyes and anyone who wants to be a fan of Bright Eyes.

Key Tracks:
1. "Four Winds"
2. "Hot Knives"
3. "Make a Plan to Love Me"
4. "No One Would Riot For Less"
5. "I Must Belong Somewhere"

8 out of 10 Stars

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