You know, up until a couple of weeks ago, I never thought I’d want to play a Bright Eyes record ever again. Their early records had sounded naive, passionate and interesting. But Conor Oberst‘s default schtick soon lost it’s charm for me, closer resembling a kind of whingeing verbal diarrhoea. I know he was still pretty young – he’s only about 27 now – but his pretensions still seemed rooted in adolescence, like a clever 16-year-old trying to cram all the ideas, images and words he knows into one song.
Oberst doesn’t do that so much on “Cassadaga”, his major label debut which is due out in April. He’s still verbose and emotional, but he no longer allows his enthusiasms to yank the songs out of shape. Instead, Oberst finally takes his time on the likes of “If The Brakeman Turns My Way”.
It’s tempting to assume he’s matured a little, less the frantic and frequently inebriated politico-brat of legend. But it might also be because Bright Eyes are now being presented as a band, with long-time associates Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis as permanent members ranked alongside Oberst. Mogis has produced all Bright Eyes records, if memory serves,but his calming hand is much more in evidence here.
Incidentally, Mogis first came to my attention in the late ’90s as part of a terrific Omaha band called Lullaby For The Working Class, who got nothing like the acclaim they deserved, effectively prototyping the edgy, unravelling alt-country that Oberst has finessed. They’re also the only act I’ve ever seen who sold band pillowcases at their gigs. Not quite the weirdest bit of merchandise I’ve bought – that would be the “rustic” pottery made by Tori Kudo, leader of Japanese anarcho-improv-cuties Maher Shalal Hash Baz – though it’s a close thing.
But clearly, I digress. “Cassadaga” is not without its awkward, self-conscious moments, not least when Oberst plays up to all that new-Dylan guff that’s been thrown his way. But there are some genuinely excellent songs here, especially the lush and tender “Make A Plan To Love Me”, where he steps up as a winsome, convincing orchestral crooner, and the woozy “Coat Check Dream Song”, which flirts with electronica in a much more successful way than anything on 2005’s “Digital Ash In A Digital Urn”. Oh, and Gillian Welch, M Ward and Janet Weiss all guest, which is cool by me.
Next week, by the way, I’ll be writing about the new Wilco record amongst other stuff. See you then.