With the endless hyperbole heaped upon Conor Oberst over the last decade "the indie Bob Dylan"? is it possible to evaluate his new Bright Eyes record with fresh ears? Only when those ears are truly fresh. Our test listener, a 25-year-old former English major with no knowledge of Bright Eyes, found Cassadaga's appeal early on to be uneven and purely aesthetic. But lyrical themes within the first few tracks "Four Winds" told of Great Satan and the Whore of Babylon soon superseded the music itself. As the record progressed, our listener clung to her love of language, parsing the lyrics like classic literature. Oberst responded, unveiling a journey across time and place through vignettes set to complex, orchestrated, often-bleak country and folk-rock. "This is the sort of music you need to pay close attention to all the way through in order to enjoy," she concluded. It can't be appreciated passively. In this sense, the Bob Dylan comparisons are off-base; Bright Eyes' latest work tends more toward the mysterious, slow-burning tradition of Pink Floyd a connection perhaps no critic would dare embrace, yet one worth pondering as the Oberst canon matures.
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