I know I call Lifted . . . my favorite Bright Eyes album just a few weeks ago, but I think I already need to change that. Despite Cassadaga being released just over a week ago, the Bright Eyes album that’s been getting the most playtime, a ridiculous amount really, is Fevers & Mirrors. While I understand how it’s raw emotionality alienates many listeners, I find it not only charming, but entirely engrossing. It’s like a breathless confession, so deep and intimate that you can’t help but listen on.
The albums themes are dark but fascinating; the relentless nature of time, neurosis, self-medication, the restlessness of repetition, and unhealthy love. Each major theme is present throughout the entire album, but several have entire songs focused on them; ‘A Spindle’ for restlessness, ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ for time, and ‘The Calendar Hung Itself’ for love. These songs are often the most engaging on the album, and you’ll probably find yourself thinking of what exactly they mean long after the album’s final note.
Fevers & Mirrors is also home to a stylistic tool that Bright Eye’s seems to have discarded recently; lyrical and instrumental aggression. One of my main problems with Cassadaga was it’s quietness, the way it never seemed to hit any nerves. That’s an ailment that Fevers cannot be said to have; at times, it seems to leap straight at you, and sucker-punch you right in the gut. The imagery is so vivid, the vocals so passionate, that strong lyrics are barely even necessary. But, they’re there, and they add that much more to the album. A few of my favorite lines;
“Does he walk around all day in school/ With his feet inside your shoes/ Looking down every few steps/ To pretend he walks with you” (From ‘The Calendar Hung Itself’)
“And I kissed a girl with a broken jaw/ That her father gave to her/ She had eyes bright enough to burn me there/ Reminding me of yours.” (From ‘The Calendar Hung Itself’)
“Now and again it seems worse than it is/ But mostly the view is accurate” (From ‘Something Vague’)
“Well the wicked are vultures/ And they bake in the canyons/ Circling somebody/ Wait for their victims/ To collapse and call to them” (From Arienette)
“And you tear and tear your hair from roots/ That same hair you’ve twice removed/ Now a lock of hair/ You said would prove/ Our love would never die” (From ‘Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh’)
Even the pseudo-interview that punctuates the end of the album is an interesting look into what drives Oberst. There’s so much that I love about this album, that it’s hard to fit it all into such a short space (and this has already become one of my longer posts). So, I’ll stop after just one more thing. Above all else, I love Fevers & Mirrors because it’s a mood album. When you’re feeling down, it’s not likely to bring you up any, but it will make a fine companion.
Yeah, that’s right; it’s my birthday. In addition to playing Person Pitch nonstop on my brand new stereo system, I actually found some time to track down some birthday related tracks from Andrew Bird, Bright Eyes, Sinatra, and Monroe. They separate into two categories; quick little one-minute renditions of the song people leave on your answering machine every year, and longer tracks that deal with the general idea of birthdays. Some of these are interesting beyond their gimmick, especially the infamous ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’.
Since my other two weekly features have gone over so well, I thought I should introduce another new feature: that would Covers Wednesday. As you can guess, Covers Wednesday consists of covers. I don’t think there’ll be any particular style though; some weeks I’ll focus one artist’s covers, other weeks covers of one artist. Still others, like today, I’ll just throw together a few semi-random covers that piqued my interest. Today, I’ve got some covers by Animal Collective, Björk, and Bright Eyes, of Nirvana, Nancy Sinatra, and Feist. The Animal Collective cover of Nirvana’s ‘Polly’ is definitely the best of the bunch. It’s one of the most darkest songs from either bands catalog. I never understood the controversy over ‘Polly’ until now; with AC performing it, the subtleties Cobain wrote in take center-stage, producing the most thoroughly disturbing song I’ve heard since Scott Walker’s last album.
As a Bright Eyes fan, it’s a little tough for me to write this piece. I’ve loved Conor Oberst and company ever since Fevers and Mirrors, and 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning left me me with high expectations for their follow-up, Cassadaga. Does it meet them? It’s tough to say. While Oberst has always evolved in between albums, Cassadaga represents what might be his greatest stylistic shift yet.
Any fan of Bright Eyes will tell you that’s there’s just one element that lifts them from good to great; Oberst’s lyrics. While Bright Eye’s melodies are far from weak, it’s Oberst’s writing that creates classics. Listening to songs like ‘Lua’ (I’m Wide Awake . . .) and ‘Bowl Of Oranges’ (Lifted . . .), hearing Obesrt’s voice crack as singing turns to something far more cathartic, you can’t help but admire the craftsmanship that goes into his lyrics. Despite what detractors may say, the comparisons to Dylan are well-founded, at least lyrically. Unfortunately, Cassadaga is severely lacking in this area. The lyrics aren’t poorly written, but you can tell that Oberst doesn’t connect with them in quite the same way he has in the past. There’s no passion, no fire, in his voice anymore.
While Cassadaga is nearly devoid of the band’s greatest strength, every other element is done expertly. Cassadaga is Bright Eye’s seventh studio album, and it shows; this is a band that knows it’s way around a recording studio. The instrumentation is superb, featuring a few new instruments, and the production is top-notch. Despite this, two elements stick out just a bit. Firstly, some of the backing vocals are questionable at best; those on ‘Soul Singer In A Session Band’ are downright awful. Also, it’s seems like Oberst discovered the reverb button for the first time while mixing the album. I can understand wanting a more natural-sounding album, but unless Oberst was recording in his basement again, he went a little too far.
But it would be unfair to talk about Cassadaga’s flaw without mentioning the good parts. Maybe the best thing Cassadaga has going for it, apart from Oberst’s scant flashes of lyrical genius, is it’s experimentation. Although only prominent on two tracks (‘Coat Check Dream Song’ and ‘Cleanse Song’), there’s definitely a sound here that you wouldn’t expect on a Bright Eye’s album; tribal percussion, chants, and other assorted niceties. They fit suprrisingly well, and bring some intriguing new elements to the Bright Eyes formula.
So, will Cassadaga be vying with Lifted . . . for position as my favorite Bright Eyes album? Definitely not. But despite it’s flaws, it’s still a solid record. It feels less like a misstep, and more like a growing pain for the band. Every band does an album like this, and most have done far worse. If this is the worst Bright Eyes has to offer, then they’re still in pretty damn good shape.
It’s Monday again, and you know what that means: more remixes! They’re all pretty decent, but my personal favorite of the bunch is the Appogee remix of Bright Eye’s Lover I Don’t Have To Love. It keeps the best parts of the original, while adding an extra dose of electro. Enjoy!
Bright Eyes is one of those strange artists, whose fans can never seem to agree on a single album to call his best. Conor Oberst’s sound evolves considerably from album to album, resulting in a varied, intimidating discography. Personally, my favorite of his albums is 2002’s Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground. To me, it represents Bright Eyes at their best; dark, depressing, and more than a little angry. It’s also home to my all-time favorite Bright Eyes song, the the pessimistic electro-ballad, ‘Lover I Don’t Have To Love’. If you’re a Bright Eyes fan, you really need to hear this album.
Technorati Tags: Bright Eyes, mp3s, Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
I know you’re all waiting for more on Cassadaga, and I’m sorry that I haven’t posted more yet. I just don’t want to post it’s piece until I’m sure of my opinion. In that respect, the piece probably won’t be ready until mid-next week. But since this is, essentially, an mp3 blog, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you this mp3 if you wait patiently and promise to check out my review next week. ‘Susan Miller Rag’ is a b-side from Cassadaga, which you should receive a 3″ CD of if you pre-ordered. It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever heard Bright Eyes do. It’s an upbeat rock track, with some very nice mellow instrumentation. After a few listens, it’s fairly easy to hear why it’s a b-side; it just doesn’t fit in with the overall tone of Cassadaga.
I’m not even going to deny I’ve had this song for less than two minutes, that I’ve barely even listened to it, or that I’m rushing to put up this post. All I’m going to say is that you need to hear this. If you hadn’t already gathered this, it’s from Bright Eyes new album, Cassadaga, which I absolutely recommend you purchase as soon as it hit’s store shelves on April 10th. Enjoy, and expect a more in-depth post in the next few days.
Dntel has been a pretty busy guy lately. After forming the Postal Service with Ben Gibbard a few years back, and putting out a hit album, he then went on to work with Bright Eyes, and produce yet another hit single. Apparently, all that exposure paid off; Dntel’s latest album, his first since 2001, is chock full of high profile guests. From Bright Eyes, to Jenny Lewis, and even Grizzly Bear, every track is bolstered by a hit musician. Fortunately, the artists are only there to add a certain something to the tracks, not to cover up for a lack of Dntel; every track is without a doubt, pure Dntel.
As you all know, Bright Eyes is set to release Four Winds EP on March 5th, as a forerunner to his new album, Cassadaga, set for release on April 10th. The EP contains one track, Four Winds, that will appear on Cassadaga, and five other tracks that won’t be. One of those tracks, Tourist Trap, has made it’s way onto the internet tubes. It’s a great little song, filled with Bright Eyes trademark melancholy. However, it shows much growth on Bright Eyes part, with more complex instrumentation, employing a piano, and a background beat that sounds suspiciously like footsteps. If this is any indicator, Cassadaga, should be a real treat.