Expect percussion and vocals from longtime lover Maria Taylor (formerly one half of Azure Ray) and Clark Baeschle of The Faint and guitar/harmonies from singer-songwriter M.Ward of Post-War pomp and circumstance. Distinguished producer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis contributes, well, every other instrument imaginable to this record.
Based around the theme of a small Florida town of the same name known for having a large number of psychics and home of the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, Cassadaga weaves themes of mysticism and mediums as Oberst croons about country singers, lost love and the end of the world. Incorporating strings, pedal steel guitar, mandolin and even ukulele, this is Bright Eyes' most country-folk influenced release.
Keeping with the theme of Cassadaga mystics, the CD and LP versions come with a "spectral decoder," a thin piece of plastic nestled in the album cover that allows users to see the art hidden within the unusual black and white mess of lines and dashes covering the CD booklet and LP sleeve. Images from the song lyrics such as a mirrors, a Ferris wheel and planet Earth come to life with the spectral decoder, revealing secret messages and other languages.
Though Cassadaga is easily Bright Eyes' best produced album to date, it's difficult to ignore the loosely composed themes of mystic spirituality coupled with empty political rhetoric and religious condescension. In his previous releases, Oberst turned introspective, cursing his own mediocrity and inner spoils, but here he seems to be pointing his finger. Cassadaga reveals a more grown-up Oberst, perhaps overconfident with his lengthy and impressive track record.
The album begins with "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" and the typical, largely un-listenable noise so characteristic of a Bright Eyes record. We hear a woman, who the listener can only assume to be a Cassadaga medium, speaking of codes and symbols as she coaxes "Don't be afraid." Her voice merges with eerie, atmospheric whooshes, intertwining and building, only to culminate 2 minutes into the track with Oberst's soft vocals and slow guitar as he warns his listeners "I thought you knew the drill/It's kill or be killed."
The second track, the single "Four Winds," begins with a bang, giving the album a raucous and oddly joyful, anthemic start with violins and guitars. Oberst sings of religion, nationality and the great sacrifices made to uphold such institutions, even to the point of death and war. In a mild effort to explain the futility of it all, he offers the ballsy retort: "The Bible is blind/The Torah is deaf/The Quran is mute," without much explanation, only to resolve with "I buried my ballast/I made my peace."
Cassadaga marks a new era for Bright Eyes, and in spite of the vague sentiments, it's a good album. Oberst seems to be making an attempt at abandoning the contrived vulnerability of his youth and assuming a new ambiance, one of the wise, more mature, folk rock star, a persona that will take a while to build. After all, he always wanted to be Neil Young.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3