Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (Polydor) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

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Bright Eyes: Hot Knives
Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (Polydor) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

A couple of years ago -- around the time Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst to his parents) broke biggish with the two 2005 albums I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (the former of songs, the latter electronics) -- I was in Tower Records in Seattle.

I spotted a seven album Bright Eyes box set (yes, all vinyl) for some ludicrously low price.

I'd heard of Bright Eyes in relation to I'm Wide Awake which people were talking about. So for something like $NZ80 felt I could confidently take the plunge: all I really knew was that in some circles he was being hailed as "the new Dylan".

That nicely presented, unannotated and slightly indulgent box-set of mostly pre-2005 material beguiled and bewildered me for weeks on my return home: what I heard wasn't so much a "new Dylan" but maybe a "new Beck" (who of course had also been briefly hailed a "new Dylan" around the time of Loser).

The music -- songs and electronics bashing off each other -- was scattergun, lo-fi and a pepperpot of almost-genius and utter nonsense. Some of it was forgiveable juvenilia.

Now he's up to his 10th album with Cassadaga and those "new Dylan" references seem to be making some proper sense, in an angular 21st century way.

Named for the Florida town where there is an almost unnatural coagulation of psychics and spiritualists -- and driven by sonic samples from some whose predictions sound absurd but also slightly chilling -- this album walks a fine line between orchestrated indie-pop, fractured and dramatic folk-rock, keening country with pedal steel, and it is shot through with a sense of impending doom in the snapping lyrics.

And yes, there are some Dylanesque aural references which interestingly enough attach themselves to Dylan of the 70s rather than the 60s. More Tarot and Biblical imagery than subterranean blues, being lost in Mobile or sitting in the Chelsea Hotel -- if you get my drift.

But he also, like that younger Bob, creates his own stark and striking images in poetic, mysteriously evocative lyrics.

This is a lyrically dense, musically mature and ambitious album, but it is also utterly listenable and stands alongside I'm Wide Awake It's Morning as the best in Conor's now extensive canon.

Made me also get out that big box set again too, just to see how far he has come.

It's a very long way.

If he isn't appearing in other "best of" lists it's because, I think, after all these years and albums, too many critics and writers are taking him (like Beck) for granted.

Don't.

Check this out and settle in for a long and rewarding listen.

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