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When change is good: Cassadaga

"An ambition, I've found, can lead only to failure.
I do not read the reviews.
No, I am not singing for you.”

The Conor Oberst who resides in my mind is a 20, maybe 22-year-old guy with messy brown hair and puppy eyes and a knack for writing emotional and often angry lyrics. The release of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning in 2005 was something of a shock to most Bright Eyes fans – their prophet had turned around his act to become something beyond a singer-songwriter; his work was now that of a veritable musician. As it has recently become clear, this transformation was partly stirred by the addition of permanent non-Conor Oberst members to Bright Eyes. “At the Bottom of Everything,” my favorite track off I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, is particularly revealing in this regard. After a minute-long spoken introduction of sorts, Oberst counts “1, 2, 1-2-3-4” and the response is a flowering of instrumentation into song. Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott appear to be responsible for the shift – Mogis acting as producer while Walcott is responsible for new, more complex string arrangements.

But a great deal of the change in Bright Eyes’ music in Cassadaga appears to have stemmed from Oberst himself, who has matured in his song-writing beyond all expectations. It serves as Bright Eyes' first "concept album", its storytelling based around a spiritualist camp in Florida for psychics. Cassadaga’s brightest spots come with deliberate restraint, as in “Four Winds” and “I Must Belong Somewhere” which seem to exude a new acceptance and cautious optimism lacking in all previous Bright Eyes works. Despite this, the slower tracks on Cassadaga are generally its weakest moments (“Lime Tree” and “Cleanse Song,” for example), with the notable exception being “If The Brakeman Goes My Way” about the purging of drugs and chemicals Oberst underwent in 2006. “Make A Plan To Love Me” is just plain sappy in the worst way possible. Some other highlights are “Hot Knives”, “Classic Cars”, and “Soul Singer in a Session Band.” The instrumentation in Cassadaga, likewise, hits its strongest moments when it relies on country and folk music for inspiration. Fans looking for blunt social commentary and brash frustration in Cassadaga will only be disappointed, but may find that somewhere in the calm, there is a new peace.

Bright Eyes' Myspace
Saddle Creek Records
Buy Cassadaga at

Bright Eyes - If The Brakeman Turns My Way
Bright Eyes - Classic Cars
Bright Eyes - I Must Belong Somewhere (live from NPR)

The Smudge of Ashen Fluff has Bright Eyes' KCRW set available for download, though you can also listen to it here.

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4 Responses to “When change is good: Cassadaga”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous


    I semi-agree with you.

    I think that Conor has matured a great deal in not only his song writing, but in the form he presents it in. You no longer hear an incessant quaver over an acoustic guitar.

    It's an album of complete truth, spiritual cleansing, and harmonious coexistence.

    And Bright Eyes loses thousands of fourteen year old girls screaming his name, and gains a few who love music.

    It has zero weak points.  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I couldn't agree more. Conor seems to have gained a new confidence, and it really shows through in Cassadaga. Though at first I missed the vulnerable Conor Oberst we heard in tracks such as "Nothing Gets Crossed Out," (and all throughout LIFTED, for that matter) the fresher, more sophisticated sound of Cassadaga has grown on me.  

  3. # Anonymous Anonymous

    LOL i bet you actually are a screaming fan girl.  

  4. # Anonymous Anonymous

    So what if I am? And I don't scream. I yell, thank you very much. And just because I am a fangirl doesn't mean I can't appreciate the music.  

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