Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: Meg Walsh
04/10/2007 | Maneater | www.themaneater.com | Album Review
When we last heard from Bright Eyes, frontman Conor Oberst took us in two enormously different directions. There was classic sensibility in I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, and infectious pop in Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. But fans haven't known what to expect from Cassadaga. Will Oberst go back to his roots of a folksy depressed boy from Omaha, Neb., or is I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn's dismal pop here to stay?

Much to most everyone's pleasure, Oberst hasn't traded in his guitar for a synth. He's kept with his amazing writing skills, both lyrically and musically. But Cassadaga's style is a big shift for Oberst to a more country-like folk sound than I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning's mellow rock.

"Four Winds" features the lyrics "all the way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead," which has predictably sparked an interest in the album's title city. The Central Florida town of Cassadaga is a spiritual and medium hub and was founded in 1875 when George Colby was lead there by spiritual guide. Colby suffered from tuberculosis at the time, and it is believed that the waters in Cassadaga provided him with a cure. Needless to say, the town is full of spiritual mystery.

The album starts in the new Bright Eyes tradition of loud noises. Oberst has said he uses this unpleasant opening to separate the real fans from the people just cruising through tracks. This time, the noise is in the "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" orchestral dissonance, played behind the sounds of a psychic reading. A woman's voice speaks of death and advises the person to visit Cassadaga. The unpleasant noises turn gorgeously mellow in the second part of the track when Oberst's vocals come in and the beauty begins. The third part of the track combines the orchestra (now in tune), the psychic reading and Eastern religious chant-like singing. The track ends with high-pitched violin notes and then "Four Winds" begins.

The folksy country beat (fiddle included), the old-style feel, Oberst's artistic lyrics and the hopeless religious theme make up this amazing single. Like much of the album, "Four Winds" is spiritual but not religious, with lines such as "The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran's mute/ If you burn them all together you get close to the truth." But the track stays pious with references to the son of man, Bethlehem, Satan and speaking with the deceased.

"Make A Plan To Love Me" is classic Bright Eyes: slow and dreary melody to match the heartbroken Oberst's singing. The song doesn't match the Southern style of the rest of the album, but it would be at home on any other of Oberst's releases.

The problem with this folksy album is the heard-them-before old school country sound. Every song sounds classic and unoriginal. Many of the songs sound familiar, even upon first listen. Multi-instrumentalists Mike Mogis and Nate Wolcott, the only other permanent members of Bright Eyes, give each song its own personality whether it be a trumpet fanfare or an organ solo. Guitarist and indie star M. Ward lends his stylings to the album as well.

This might not be your grandpappy's country, but it gets a bit too close for comfort. And though Oberst's new emaciated version of Jack White's look might be extremely unwelcome, Cassadaga should be invited into your stereo with open arms.
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