Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: Allison Wingate
04/09/2007 | Independent Collegian | www.independentcollegian.com | Album Review
Bright Eyes have morphed their musical image with their seventh full-length, Cassadaga, which goes on sale tomorrow, courtesy of Saddle Creek Records.

The title of the record refers to a spiritualist community of Florida, boasting residence of a large population of psychics or "mediums" and is mentioned in the fiddle-filled single Four Winds.

Initially thought I'd absolutely hate the move to alternative country, but the transition has left me somewhat torn.

The group showed fearlessness in attempting new genres, previously with their electronic record Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and now with their alt-country progression on Cassadaga, but it isn't as focused and developed as it could have been.

The new Americana sound is great, but I'm not sure if it necessarily fits in with vocalist and song-writer Conor Oberst's distressed vocals or writing style.

I saw the band last summer at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. and was taken by surprise by the new instrumentation they've been utilizing and is present on the record: fiddles, accordions, organ and strings.

The record features these new sounds as well as appearances from artists such as singer Gilian Welch, drummer Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, singer-songwriter Maria Taylor, guitarist M. Ward and more.

Orchestrated pieces make appearances on the album on tracks such as the conspicuous love song "Make A Plan To Love Me" and the conclusion of the eerie opener "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)," and give the record an elaborate feel.

Those who draw the comparison between Oberst and Dylan are sorely mistaken.

Conor's storytelling capabilities do not even hold a candle to those of Dylan's "Hurricane," and this inadequacy is apparent on the record.

While there is a definite tone of maturity on the record that hasn't been as apparent before in their work, Oberst never ceases to make me roll my eyes with his constant lyrical pretension.

He demonstrates this on the record several times, but a stand-out instance is on the song "Soul Singer In The Session Band" when he sings "I had a lengthy discussion about the power of myth/With a post-modern author that didn't exist/In this fictitious world a reality twist/I was a hopeless romantic now I'm just turning tricks."While he's been responsible for much worse, insincerity just rings from phrases such as these.

Most of the stronger tracks of the record fall on the first half and are personified by songs such as the building "Hot Knives" featuring the percussion of Weiss backed by a string section, and the energetic sing-along "Four Winds."

Female harmonies are constantly appearing on the record, and really add to the songs, sometimes covering up the roughness of Oberst's voice.

The group traces back to their bare bone days with the simplistic closer "Lime Tree" on which Oberst sings over an acoustic track.

Critic's Conclusion: Oberst was better off when he was reading us his diary and writing songs about self-deprecation and dating Winona Ryder. He is not and will probably never be the voice of my generation. This record is more of a credit to Mike Mogis, band member and producer, for the beautifully rich Americana sounds he produced. C+
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