Oberst, who makes music under the Bright Eyes banner, was the MySpace generation's angry young man -- full of vitriol, he joined up with the Vote for Change mini-tour in 2004, railing against President Bush and the Iraq war. For all of his activism, Oberst's intensely held political beliefs were threatening to overwhelm his work, drowning his gifts in a sea of seething rhetoric.
What a difference three years makes: Oberst is no less infuriated with the state of the world, but he's dialed down the volume; Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed), the opening track of Cassadaga, Bright Eyes' sixth full-length album, is just as intense as his previous works (the overlooked Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, in particular) but all the more menacing for its quietly focused venom.
The best, most consistent record Oberst has crafted in the last five years, Cassadaga is strewn with references to cleansing, taking stock of life and determining a clear path; the album's title name-checks the mystical Florida town Oberst visited in an effort to achieve mental and physical clarity.
Mission accomplished: These 13 tracks achieve a kind of ragged, majestic peace, relying on heavenly vocal cameos from Tyler natives Sherri and Stacey DuPree (of Eisley fame; their appearance on Make a Plan to Love Meis nothing short of astonishing), as well as contributions from Rachel Yamagata and Gillian Welch.
Lyrically, Oberst intertwines righteous fury with surprisingly potent insights about life and aging (see Soul Singer in a Session Band); musically, country flourishes (licks of lap steel, flecks of fiddle) are applied to a foundation of '70s singer/songwriter rock and shoegazing pop. It's the album similarly minded troubadour Ryan Adams wishes he could make.
"Gonna find myself somewhere to level out," Oberst sings on If the Brakeman Turns My Way; the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has clearly turned a corner, but it's the listener who'll be knocked flat. The pinnacle of a prolific career, Cassadaga is a record of slowly blossoming brilliance, one that overwhelms you when least expected. A-
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3