Author: Keegan Hamilton
Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes is now a healthy, complex-free adult. As a result, Cassadaga, his sixth full-length, is significantly less personal than Oberst's previous work. Through motifs of mysticism and the metaphysical, Oberst attempts to tackle contemporary issues such as global warming and the Iraq war obliquely and allusively, decisions that render many of the lyrics prosaic at best. Also new are squeaky-clean, overproduced steel guitar and electric-organ-driven arrangements, which are akin to the operatic, alt-country sounds of contemporaries like Neko Case and My Morning Jacket. The results are disappointing. "I Must Belong Somewhere," which is lyrically the album's strongest track and could have been an effusive and intimate ode, is violated from the start by the presence of an obnoxious steel guitar. Not all is lost, though. Songs like "Four Winds" and "Soul Singer in a Session Band" work well because the contrived, restrained conventions of the album are abandoned, with Oberst cutting loose and feeding off what are, musically, the album's strongest cuts. For the most part, however, Cassadaga is the unfortunate victim of both contrived social commentary and misplaced stylistic deviation.