When I got my first job, and consequently my first steady paycheck, I began to buy music. And I bought a lot of music. It was the same summer I started buying records, but until after I bought about a dozen CDs (that I’ve since upgraded to vinyl). Unlike the cautious and surefooted way I buy music now, the norm back then was for me to buy albums based on one or two songs I heard on college radio.
And luck must have been with me, because I was buying albums like Neon Bible, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Wincing the Night Away, A Ghost is Born, and Cassadaga by Bright Eyes. Having fallen in love with I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning and hearing the country-tinted single “Four Winds,” I bought the record, and for a while, it replaced it’s predecessor at the top of my CD stack…
To put it briefly, it’s more refined than anything the group had done before. At its base, it’s almost a country record (if It’s Wide Awake
opened my mind up to Bob Dylan, Cassadaga
opened it to Ryan Adams), with fiddles, lap steels, and Hammond organs along for most of the ride.
But there’s an eerie ambience that appears when the arrangements are more sparse, like on the horror-film-soundtrack-orchestra’d “Clairaudients (To Kill or To be Killed),” or the comforting bleakness of “Lime Tree,” or the bleak anti-war anthem “No One Would Riot For Less.” The Middle Eastern-tinged “Coat Check Dream Song” even returns to the electronic experiments of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn while remaining cohesion with the rest of the album.
Oberst’s eyes are now open to much more than his hangovers and ill-advised love affairs and protest marches down the block. He sets gaze upon his issues with major world religions, the government, war, and a number of other paradigms. And after sixty minutes of musings, he still isn’t any more certain how exactly he feels about anything, sounding just as desperate for answers at the end of “Lime Tree” as the conversations with phone-psychic suggests at the album’s opening strains.