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Artist: Bright Eyes
Label: Saddle Creek
Time: 13 Tracks 62:05

Conor Oberst is growing up. His previous efforts have had their share of world wise knowledgeable poetry set to music. However, on this most recent offering, Cassadaga we see Oberst turning to powerful self-reflection and self-examination. At 27, it seems he is starting to think heavily about where his place is in the world, and what kind of legacy he wants to leave behind. There is also the usual brilliant lyricism, and much thought provoking culture commentary we are used to from Bright Eyes, here as well. 

The opening track “Clairaudience: Kill or Be Killed” begins with a bunch of what sounds like news real footage overdubbed with synthesizer underpinnings. This continues for about two minutes, until the song begins. In this song Oberst finds himself in familiar territory, political commentary: 

Future Markets, Holy Wars
Been tried ten thousand times before
If you think that God is keeping score, Hooray!
For the freedom-fighting simulcast
The imminent and the aftermath
Draw another bloody bath to drain
Like the polar icecaps centrifuge 
First snowman built at the end of June
He slicks his hair for the interview, his fifteen-minute fame
Would you agree times have changed?

“Four Winds” features some great fiddle moments in an all out bluegrass sounding in a second political tune. 

“If The Brakeman Turns My Way” is a song about how life is full of changes, and the cycle of life:

“All this death must need a counterweight always someone born again
First a mother bathes her child then the other way around
The Scales always find a way to level out.”

“Make a Plan To Love Me” continues in this theme, as Oberst writes hear about how short life is, and the mortality of every single person on earth. 

“Soul Singer In A Session Band” features young Oberst turning introspective about himself, and the angst that he feels in his own life:

I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
With a post-modern author who didn't exist
In this fictitious world all reality twists
I was a hopeless romantic now I'm just turning tricks.
“Classic Cars” is a great country song that calls to mind Oberst’s finest musical moments.

“Middleman” features a fine fiddle solo that grinds out a minor key solo backed by bongo drums. It is spattered with Oberst’s trademark lyrical obscurity that has attracted fans like me over the past few years.  

“No One Would Riot For Less” is by far Conor Oberst’s strongest anti-war song on this album, as it features some hard-hitting dark lyrics:

Little soldier, little insect, you know war it has no heart
It will kill you in the sunshine or happily in the dark
Where kindness is a card game or a bent-up cigarette
In the trenches, in the hard rain, with a bullet and a bit

He says, "help me out"
Hell is coming
Could you do it now?
Hell is here

As one listens to this song, with it’s haunting lyrics, it is easy to find yourself thinking of some of 1960’s folk icon Phil Och’s harsh anti-Vietnam lyrics. There is a definite parallel on a song like this that has me curious as to what Oberst is listening to these days on his iPod or whatever he uses to listen to tunes on. 

“I Must Belong Somewhere” is the song that best exemplifies how Conor Oberst is growing and maturing as a songwriter. It is on this song that he describes his thoughts on finding his place in society, while mentioning other people and places that have their place in the world: 

'Cause everything it must belong somewhere
Sound stage in California, televisions in Times Square
Yeah, everything it must belong somewhere
I know that now, that's why I'm staying here
Well I know that now, that's why I'm staying here 
Taken as a whole, this is probably Conor Oberst strongest project as far as songwriting goes. He is showing signs of maturing into a songwriter that can write about the world he lives in, and at the same time writes songs that are personal in nature. My one drawback on “Cassadaga” is that there seem to be an overwhelming amount of ballads here, with too few country romps that were so prevalent on previous efforts. Other than that, if you are in the mood for some solid, thought provoking lyrics, then look no farther than “Cassadaga.”

James Morovich
4 Tocks


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