Cassadaga

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Cassadaga by Bright Eyes

“Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)”

“Four Winds”

“If The Brakeman Turns My Way”

“Hot Knives”

“Make A Plan To Love Me”

“Soul Singer In A Session Band”

“Classic Cars”

“Middleman”

“Cleanse Song”

“No One Would Riot For Less”

“Coat Check Dream Song”

“I Must Belong Somewhere”

“Lime Tree”

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Bright Eyes is the brainchild of Conor Oberst, and was formed in Omaha, Nebraska. Oberst’s early bands include Commander Venus, Park Ave, and Desaparecidos. He and Mike Mogis (guitar) are the only two static members of Bright Eyes; the rest consists of various Saddle Creek members and touring musicians.

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was released in 2005 alongside the electronic album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, and was the more critically acclaimed of the two. It saw Bright Eyes go from an independent band to a best-selling group played on radio stations across America. It also spawned the live CD Motion Sickness, which draws heavily from I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.

Bright Eyes is less popular in the UK than America, but definitely has a cult following there amongst people who are followers of the Saddle Creek record label, which was set up by Conor Oberst and features other great bands such as Cursive and Rilo Kiley.

Bright Eyes — I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning: Track-by-track review

1. “At The Bottom Of Everything”
A peculiar choice for a single, the first half of this song consists entirely of Conor Oberst telling the story of a couple falling in love on a plane.

Actually, “At the Bottom of Everything” is lovely, very catchy and countrified (don’t ask me to name specific instruments, we don’t have country music in England), but as always on his album openers, he makes you work for it.

I don’t know how the video ever got played on MTV but it did, because I saw it a few times, and found it kitschy but quite strange.

2. “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now”
A live favourite from this album, this song features backing vocals from country singer Emmylou Harris, but there is a previous version without her, and I always preferred it. I felt like she ruined it a bit.

But because of the quality of the song, it survives. Conor’s vocals are amazing, and the vulnerability of his voice combined with the lyrics is truly beautiful.

A friend of mine once criticised the lyric ‘I’ve been sleeping so strange, with a head full of pesticides,’ but I always liked it.

3. “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)”
Probably my favourite song on the album, “Old Soul Song” is in a similar vein to “We Are Nowhere and it’s Now,” but betters that song. I first heard it live and it took my breath away.

It is the tale of Conor going to a protest march, and is so magical it’s enough to make you cry. If you only download one song off this album, you’d better make it this one.

I love it towards the end where he shouts, ‘Yeah, they go wild’ over and over. Absolutely mind-blowing.

4. “Lua”
The first single released from this album, “Lua” featured a video of Conor playing his guitar at a bus stop and steadfastly refusing to look up. This song is a simple acoustic number with familiar lyrics about parties, drugs, and depression.

I used to not think that much of this song, but recently got it stuck in my head all day and fell in love with it again.

5. “Train Under Water”
For some reason, Bright Eyes seems to play this song live a lot, which is a shame as it does nothing for me. Hinting at the country-direction they were clearly hurtling towards at this point, I find it quite plodding, generic and pretty weak compared to the rest of the album. The lyrics also seem a bit half-hearted.

6. “First Day Of My Life”
Probably Bright Eyes’ most famous and overplayed song. I suspect that’s because it is such an obvious love song, something that they had not done so explicitly before.

However, it took me a very long time to warm to it. I just didn’t find it as immediately affecting as some of the other songs on the album. Strangely, now that I’ve heard it hundreds of times, I can finally see the strength in it. I don’t think the tune is amazing, but the simple honesty of the lyrics works. I also like the new live version they do of it, which I think gives it a bit of an electric shock treatment.

The video, incidentally, is absolutely awful, and I can’t even watch it. I just want to punch all the people in it.

7. “Another Travelin’ Song”
This song is “Train Under Water”‘s annoying cousin. I feel like these overtly country songs are Conor trying to be another kind of songwriter — trying to be something that he isn’t. I really feel like he’s a little rocker at heart, or at least more progressive than this.

I can’t stand banjos. I can’t stand harmonicas. (OK, I remembered the names of some country music instruments). I feel like I should be chewing on some straw shooting at tin cans listening to this. Which is not what I look for in a song, really.

8. “Land Locked Blues”
This is more like it. A very stripped down, lilting melody and strong lyrics. Again, Emmylou Harris is on the song (to its detriment, in my opinion, as I have a radio session version of it without her that I prefer). I just don’t think her voice and Conor’s voice go together than well, no matter how much he admires her. They sound like they are from different centuries.

9. “Poison Oak”
Another high point of the album; “Poison Oak” is perfection. Gorgeous, evocative lyrics tell a tangible story. Conor’s voice sounds both fragile and strong, and as if he means every word. The buildup of the melody works brilliantly.

And I never thought this life was possible
You’re the yellow bird that I’ve been waiting for
The sound of loneliness makes me happier

Just divine.

10. “Road To Joy”
“Road to Joy” steals from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which obviously makes the hook undeniably brilliant. This song is a fantastic end to the album, and for all its pilfering, sounds fresh and original, loud and immediate. It demands to be heard and sung along to.

The jamming at the end is great: really noisy, loads of screaming and clashing of cymbals. It definitely finishes the album on a massive high.

I’ll leave you with these lyrics:

My parents they have their religion
But sleep in seperate houses
No one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter
Sometimes that’s just the most comfortable place

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes

“At The Bottom Of Everything”

“We Are Nowhere And It’s Now”

“Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)”

“Lua”

“Train Under Water”

“First Day Of My Life”

“Another Travelin’ Song”

“Land Locked Blues”

“Poison Oak”

“Road To Joy”

Digital Ash In A Digital Urn

Bright Eyes is the band belonging to rock waif Conor Oberst, who has been writing and recording since he was a squeaky-voiced 13 year old. Often compared to Bob Dylan, I would also compare him to Morrissey in that he is certainly one of the most gifted lyricists of our generation, dealing with the brutal truth of life in the most honest way.

With an incredibly rich back catalogue of work, ranging from angsty rock to folk to electronica to country, and with an ever-changing band line-up, Conor is not afraid to experiment or push himself creatively. Often unfairly lumped in with either the emo scene or bland singer-songwriters, he is actually in a league of his own, combining his frail voice with his impassioned writing.

Digital Ash in a Digital Urn was released in 2005 alongside the country-tinged I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and in my opinion was criminally overlooked in favour of the latter. The mere sniff of the word ‘digital’ in the title had die-hard Bright Eyes fans wailing that the album was soulless, or too dancey, but apart from a few extra keyboards and an ever-present drum machine, Digital Ash has at least as much soul as I’m Wide Awake and certainly as many hooks.

The bravery of simultaneously releasing two albums of such diversity and extreme strengths should be recognised as being truly groundbreaking.

Bright Eyes — Digital Ash In A Digital Urn: Track-by-track review

1. “Time Code”
As keen Bright Eyes followers will be aware, Conor has the annoying habit of opening each album with some unlistenable noise, often with a song tacked on halfway through so you’re forced to sit through it.

Here things are not so bad, there’s not much of a song to speak of as such, but there are some sound effects of someone running upstairs, and some heavy breathing, followed by Conor whispering a bit. I think it’s meant to be atmospheric. You can skip it.

2. “Gold Mine Gutted”
“Gold Mine Gutted” was a single from the album and is radio friendly enough without being cheesy or saccharine. Opening with a drum machine and keyboard, Conor’s lyrics sound very controlled and the hook is memorable, and very immediate.

The lyrics about “a bag we buy and divvy up” seem to allude to Conor’s well-documented drug habit. There is something almost mournful and nostalgic about the track towards the end.

3. “Arc Of Time (Time Code)”
“Arc of Time” opens with another drum machine, and Conor’s vocals seem to overlap on themselves. The song is slightly jerky and stop/starty so I can see why it might offend the more folky of the Bright Eyes fanbase.

But I think this song and others like it on the album really push the Bright Eyes sound forward. My only criticism of this track is that it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s fun to listen to, but it isn’t that memorable.

4. “Down In A Rabbit Hole”
This is one of the darkest tracks on the album, with probably the most ambiguous lyrics, although there are definitely veiled drug references again with mentions of hearts racing and tin foil.

A drum machine is present again, as well as strings adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere. The last part of the song is reminiscent of a film soundtrack, with an echoing female vocal. Despite its subject matter, it is still a pleasurable listen.

5. “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”
This was the first single from the album, and I remember my excitement upon first hearing it. An infectiously catchy tale of an ill-fated one night stand, the lyrics paint a vivid picture of a man deciding to give up on love and just enjoy himself.

It is the most drum-machine and keyboard heavy song on the album, which adds to the modern, fresh feel to it. The drums sounds very crunchy in parts, and like nothing I had ever heard from Bright Eyes before.

6. “Hit The Switch”
“Hit The Switch” feels more like a traditional Bright Eyes song in that it is driven by incredibly honest lyrics that take you on a journey through the singer’s disaffected psyche.

From feeling alone at a table of friends, to debating giving up drinking after a heavy night out, it is somewhere we have all been. But finally he decides to just live his life the way he wants to, and it is a joyful ending. A perfect pop song.

7. “I Believe In Symmetry”
This is my favourite song on the album. Infuriatingly, the first half of this song sounds incredibly like “99 Red Balloons” by Nena, which used to drive me halfway insane. But once you get over that, this song is as good as it gets.

A lot less electronic, it has a driving force of the hugely strong lyrics and melody. The second half is where it really takes off though, and when the strings kick in, it becomes heartbreakingly good, enough to make you weep. I just want it to go on forever and ever. The lyric “there’s happiness in death” is just beautiful. I could die happy after hearing this.

8. “Devil In The Details”
A bit of a let down after “I Believe In Symmetry,” this song seems to be the quieter companion of “Down In a Rabbit Hole.” The music is quite pared down, and gloomy, but towards the end of the song it does pick up a bit. Definitely more filler than killer though. The album can’t be all amazing though, can it?

9. “Ship In A Bottle”
This is a brilliant pop song, in the more traditional Bright Eyes story-telling style, with some wonderfully evocative lyrics coupled with some good old Conor shouty bits.

Unfortunately, probably the most memorable thing thing about it is an awful sample of a baby crying in it. Absolutely horrible. It’s like Conor is trying to make you hate the song. But don’t let him! It’s great.

10. “Light Pollution”
“Light Pollution” is another really hooky pop song, telling the story of a friend’s death in the most upbeat way possible. It’s impossible not to be carried along with it.

I love it when it kicks in again in the middle. You also get a bit of Conor shouting, which I always enjoy. The best part is the last line:

I bet the stars seemed so close at the end

Perfect.

11. “Theme From Piñata”
Again, a bit of a let down after the energy of “Light Pollution,” this song is a bit nothingy and contains the cringeworthy lyrics:

I feel like a piñata
Won’t you take a swing at me

Unforgivable. The song doesn’t really go anywhere after that, but has a flute solo, which is not to be recommended either. Could do better.

12. “Easy/Lucky/Free”
Another single from the album, this song is a lush, apocolyptic way to finish the album. The first verse has Conor almost rapping over a drum machine (that sounds awful — it’s not).

He is joined on the chorus by some haunting female backing vocals and the echo on his voice is incredibly effective in creating a mood. There is real emotion behind the words, and the fade out of “there’s nothing” is just right to end the album.

Digital Ash In A Digital Urn by Bright Eyes

“Time Code”

“Gold Mine Gutted”

“Arc Of Time (Time Code)”

“Down In A Rabbit Hole”

“Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”

“Hit The Switch”

“I Believe In Symmetry”

“Devil In The Details”

“Ship In A Bottle”

“Light Pollution”

“Theme From Piñata”

“Easy/Lucky/Free”

Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable Bright Eyes nerd! A review for Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground by Bright Eyes

“The Big Picture”

“Method Acting”

“False Advertising”

“You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will”

“Lover I Don’t Have To Love”

“Bowl Of Oranges”

“Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come”

“Nothing Gets Crossed Out”

“Make War”

“Waste Of Paint”

“From A Balance Beam”

“Laura Laurent”

“Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And Be Loved)”

Fevers And Mirrors

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable Bright Eyes nerd! A review for Fevers And Mirrors hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Fevers And Mirrors by Bright Eyes

“A Spindle, A Darkness, A Fever, And A Necklace”

“A Scale, A Mirror And Those Indifferent Clocks”

“The Calender Hung Itself…”

“Something Vague”

“The Movement Of A Hand”

“Arienette”

“When The Curious Girl Realizes She Is Under Glass”

“Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh”

“The Center Of The World”

“Sunrise, Sunset”

“An Attempt To Tip The Scales”

“A Song To Pass The Time”

Letting Off The Happiness

NOTE: We’re looking for a knowledgeable Bright Eyes nerd! A review for Letting Off The Happiness hasn’t been published — yet. We need someone who can write a full track-by-track review of this album (at least a couple paragraphs per song); if you know the music, you can submit a review. You’ll be compensated when visitors make purchases through vendor links on their pages — for as long as your review remains on the site. Get more details in the FAQ.

Letting Off The Happiness by Bright Eyes

“If Winter Ends”

“Padraic My Prince”

“Contrast And Compare”

“The City Has Sex”

“The Difference In The Shades”

“Touch”

“June On The West Coast”

“Pull My Hair”

“A Poetic Retelling Of An Unfortunate Seduction”

“Tereza And Tomas”