CD Review: Bright Eyes
|Cassadaga Saddle Creek |
Music •• Sound ••••
Although Oberst has shied away from the hyperbolic praise, his songs have never been short on philosophical concepts, often sounding like the awkward musings of a freshman liberal-arts major who's been over-encouraged by his semiotics professor. And Cassadaga is packed with lyrics that will make you wince. ("All this automatic writing I have tried to understand / From a psychedelic angel who was tugging on my hand" is tucked inside a likeable country tune, "If the Brakeman Turns My Way.") Unfortunately, they're difficult to overlook since they're delivered in an earnest voice that wants you to notice them.
That's a shame, since sonically this is Bright Eyes' strongest album to date. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and keyboardist Nate Walcott have been given full-time status, and they use it to flesh things out and orchestrate wildly. And as producer, Mogis assembles a lush, exciting sound that places violins, pedal steel, organ, Dobro, and a choir of voices into the mix with a great respect for sonic space. "Four Winds" shuffles with a seductive intonation, "Soul Singer in a Session Band" sways to a belligerent sea rhythm that's only sunk by its overwrought conceits ("I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth / With a postmodern author who didn't exist"), and "Classic Cars" hits all the right C&W notes (with a faint Gillian Welch and David Rawlings guesting). There's also a dramatic, sweeping, Walcott-arranged string section for "No One Would Riot for Less."
But really, Bright Eyes is still a work in progress. Maybe by the age of 30, Conor Oberst will figure out how to say more with less - or better yet, let the music do the talking.