Bright Eyes Cassadaga

The sixth proper full-length by Conor Oberst and company begins with two minutes of teasing orchestral tension that feels like a torturous scene from Polanski’s Repulsion. And then, release. It’s become a staple of the songwriter to test our patience in the beginning of an album but never has the delivery been so effective. In fact, never has Bright Eyes been so effective. After years of concentrated drama and vitriolic angst, Oberst finally sounds like he picked the pieces of himself up off of the floor and gathered his composure, as there’s an air of comfort on Cassadaga (no presidential rants whatsoever). With a throng of ingenious musicians behind him, it’s also the first album that doesn’t feel like he’s alone. While producer/best friend Mike Mogis has always been a vital contributor and a second silent member, his multi-instrumental worth becomes more and more apparent on Cassadaga, much like the driving piano and organ work of Nate Walcott. Together the three forge a bond that hits a pinnacle on the dynamic country swing of "Soul Singer in a Session Band” and the rollicking spin that is "Hot Knives,” both of which get a lift from the verve of ex-Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. On the other side is "Make A Plan to Love Me,” perhaps Oberst’s loveliest creation to date; it’s a heavenly waltz enhanced by a placid choir of cherubic female vocals. John McEntire’s percussive blitz slightly redirects the focus a little in the second half, but whether it’s the subtleties of "Middleman” or the wash of Tortoise-ian flecks and Hassan Lemtouni’s throaty chant on "Coat Check Dream Song,” Bright Eyes feel more revitalised by such a different path. A defining statement, much like Lifted was five years ago, Cassadaga shows that Oberst has grown considerably, even more so than any of us had ever dreamed he would. (Saddle Creek)