Past albums by the Bright Eyes have had me reaching for the sleeping pills or a sharp knife; anything to end the pain of existence.
Their seventh album, Cassadaga, is different – suddenly, I want to drink whisky and hang out at San Francisco Bathhouse more often.
Conor Oberst delivers dense, and sometimes cryptic, lyrics in a voice trembling with a composite of sadness and rage. On Cassadaga, his bleak worldview is contrasted with euphoric multi-instrumental arrangements. Lashings of slide guitar, orchestral strings and strident riffs make for a strangely uplifting album. He sings “I thought you knew the drill… it’s kill, or be killed” in an upbeat way which makes the sentiment seem somehow cheerful.
The album is at its best when you don’t quite know what the song is about. ‘Soul Singer in a Session Band’ and ‘Make a Plan to Love Me’ quickly end up sounding like generic altcountry. Other songs reference Christianity, new age philosophies (the album is named for a community of psychics in Florida), drug use and depression, in a way that keeps you guessing. He says it best himself: “All this automatic writing, I’ve tried to understand… from the psychedelic angel tugging on my hand.”