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Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Bright Eyes, Cassadaga

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ONCE tagged “rock’s boy genius” by the music press, Conor Oberst turned 27 in February and continues to strive to make his sound more sophisticated.

Bright Eyes’ sixth album Cassadaga is certainly a progression from the stripped-back, acoustic sound of 2005’s double salvo I’m Wide Awake Its Morning and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn and more of a return to the more sweeping sound of Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil Keep Your Ear To The Ground.

It’s being hailed as “the American album”, in which Oberst diaries his travels around the country and articulates his sense of history in the landscape.

In rousing first single Four Winds, he’s “off to old Dakota where genocide sleeps in the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused East, I buried my ballast, I made my peace”.

It’s certainly an angrier album than normal and a showcase for many of his frustrations and insecurities – whether they be political or personal.

And yet there’s a renewed sense of confidence in the music, courtesy of the soaring strings and female harmonies that lend proceedings a far more uplifting sensibility.

A classic case in point is the almost dream-like Make A Plan To Love Me, which finds Oberst trading vocals with the bittersweet style of Stacy DuPree to breathtaking effect. As it’s PR suggests, it’s a straight up love song with girl group vocals and Burt Bacharach strings – and it’s lovely.

Soul Singer In A Session Band, the track that follows it, is evidence of Bright Eyes at their most playful, emerging as a paean to an oxymoronic profession. The violin solo by Anton Patzner is an especially nice touch.

Further highlights include the violin/acoustic guitar combo of Middleman, another tale of insecurity that finds Oberst lamenting his newfound “middleman” status.

And Coat Check Dream Song, another beautifully composed, multi-layered piece of songwriting that finds the album at its most swaggering and potent. It forms a nice contrast to the more heart-felt likes of Classic Cars, which harks back to the stripped back style of earlier work.

The most striking thing about Cassadaga is the way in which Oberst seems to be enjoying himself. Both he and producer, multi-instrumentalist and permanent band member Mike Mogis have crafted a swirling, ambitious record that’s cinematic in scope at times and intimate and country focused at others.

It’s a slice of Americana that you won’t easily forget once you’ve had chance to savour and digest it properly.

Download picks: Make A Plan To Love Me, Coat Check Dream Song, Classic Cars, Four Winds, Hot Knives

Track listing:

  1. Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)
  2. Four Winds
  3. If The Brakeman Turns My Way
  4. Hot Knives
  5. Make A Plan To Love Me
  6. Soul Singer In A Session Band
  7. Classic Cars
  8. Middleman
  9. Cleanse Song
  10. No One Would Riot For Less
  11. Coat Check Dream Song
  12. I Must Belong Somewhere
  13. Lime Tree