CD Review (kinda) – ‘Cassadaga’ by Bright Eyes

Genre: According to their facebook “Rock and Roll”. According to Wikipedia, indie folk rock.


I first discovered Bright Eyes online back in late 2006 on some Spotify-like website, the name of which I forget and which has since closed down. “Cassadaga” was the first C.D. that I bought by the band, sometime later, and remains one of my favourites by them.
So, why review it now? I have no doubt that I cannot do this record justice and nor can I review it very well. The music is full of double meanings and messages about life. To talk about it is to have to unravel the meaning and debate the issues, something that I am not qualified to do. A friend of mine, however, has been asked to review a song for her university course and has chosen “First Day of my Life” (from “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”) therefore I have written this mainly to try and provide some inspiration for her and I would not consider it a full review even if it’s quite long.
I’m doing this quite differently. I’ve written a track by track review of the first five tracks and then a summary. Obviously, this isn’t my normal style but this isn’t a normal review either!
The opening track, “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” is something that I rarely listen to because of its rather bizarre opening. A woman talks about psychic matters while discordant music builds up in the background. I believe that I once read that Bright Eyes deliberately makes the openings of their CDs difficult to avoid the ‘casual listener’. If this is the case then it works. It’s a shame though because the song itself, which comes in at the two minute mark is actually quite pleasant. Heralded by gentle fingerpicking Oberst’s lazy vocals enter, crooning a socio-political message. Maybe you should have listened to the introduction: this CD isn’t going to be an easy ride.
The next song “Four Winds” is easily one of the most musically upbeat of the album with a bouncy fiddle introduction leading into similarly bouncy vocals.  Interestingly, this change to a more joyous tone serves to emphasise the message of the song through its contrast. Although the song, as many by the band, is a critical look at life it uses jubilant  imagery, and tone, in order to emphasise and, I feel, undermine a lot of the aspects that society find to be important.
“If the Brakeman Turns my Way” seems to give a more introspective view of life and focuses on the self-development of the narrator and the listener. The simple backing, initially provided by a piano, combined with the use of vocal harmonies during the chorus, ensures that the focus is always on the lyrics which are exquisitely profound.
The rhythmic drive of “Hot Knives” gives the impression of a never ending inescapable continuation, probably to illustrate the nature of the lives of the character(s) of this song. The lyrics of this song are beautiful, focusing on the evils and vices of life, on escapism, but ultimately on forgiveness of others and of the self.
Finally, a love song! Of course, “Make a Plan to Love Me” couldn’t be straight forward, after all this is Bright Eyes, but it is beautiful. Oberst’s almost pained tone contrasts with the ethereal female backing vocals creating an atmosphere of desperation and need. The images in the lyrics are typically romantic from “shoot[ing] straight to the moon” to the “world [being] a Ferris Wheel”. There is no doubt that the narrator in this song is desperately in love and the listener cannot help but empathise with his feelings, no doubt being reminded of their own experiences.
Overall, Bright Eyes cannot be called an ‘easy listening’ band, although you may well find their CDs in the easy listening section of your local CD shop. The songs are quite different musically with some being supported by full bands and others by simple finger picked guitar patterns but they are united by two things Oberst’s lingering vocals and evocative lyrics that you will have no choice but to think about for days on end. Do I always like Bright Eyes music? No. Sometimes their sound is a bit too weird for me and sometimes the subject matter is too dark or just goes straight over my head. That said, they’re a band that you will not be able to forget.

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