CD Review: Bright Eyes' Cassadaga
Conor Oberst may be one of the most depressing people alive, but he’s damn good at it.
Cassadaga--overtly mature in both lyrical content and musical complexity--marks Bright Eyes’ evolution into a more diverse, less Oberst-oriented band, which is something that’s been waiting to happen for the better part of the decade. The songs here are more musically rich, from the fiddles on the barnyard theme “Four Winds” to the heavy percussions in “Soul Singer in a Session Band.”
The album is lyrically profound and deals with all sorts of being lost--and who’s surprised? Its title is drawn from a town in Florida inhabited by mystics and psychics, and the theme of finding oneself runs throughout the whole hour of it, right from the start: “Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)” opens with a woman’s suspiciously vague monologue about traveling America and what expectations to have. The track becomes more and more surreal, eventually climaxing in an explosion of sounds that create as much of a sense of confusion as the words that overlap them. But as soon as Oberst’s voice kicks in, singing his politically and religiously charged lyrics, he reminds us that there’s a method to the madness.
The album’s progression is even and confident, with lyrics ranging from religious symbolism to flat-out confessions, and the spread of musical styles complements this beautifully. The Arabic wailing of “Coat Check Dream Song” perfectly contrasts the fun, folk-pop riffs of “Four Winds.”
The second-to-last track, “I Must Belong Somewhere,” is perhaps Oberst’s most personal part of Cassadaga. “Everything it must belong somewhere/ I know that now that is why I'm staying here,” he sings as something of a realization at the hour’s end. It is an apt lead-in to the sad acoustic finale, “Lime Tree,” which reminds us that no matter where Oberst has found himself at the end of his soul-seeking journey--spanning America, religion and spirituality--happiness isn’t necessarily the outcome.