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.
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.
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.
Bright Eyes have just announced their tour dates for this spring, promoting their new album, Cassadaga, set to be released on April 9.