Polarizing indie icon Conor Oberst lobs his first full-length studio album since 2005’s simultaneous releases I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Cassadaga, Florida, renowned “Psychic Center of the World” and the “South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community,” is the CD’s namesake. Songs about self-cleansing, balancing out and finding home emphasize the spiritual theme.
“Four Winds” – on loan from this spring’s eponymous EP – and the Janet Weiss-drummed “Hot Knives” come as close as Americana can get to head-banging and fist-pumping. “Middleman” flaunts Iron & Wine-worthy breaths of grainy fiddling and “I Must Belong Somewhere” alone embodies enough colorful imagery to defend Oberst’s visionary status. Tribal beats and vocals feel fresh on the atmospheric “Coat Check Dream Song.”
“Make A Plan To Love Me” begins as an airy lullaby swirled with female a capella, but becomes so over-produced that it winds up leaning toward theatrical score. Though delivering memorable storytelling and big hooks, the majority of songs also surrender to the same excessive polishing. Gone is the raw zest and neighing naiveté that made Fevers and Mirrors such a powerful release. Oberst even sings “…was a hopeless romantic/now I’m just turning tricks,” a possible reference to fatiguing artistic expression.
Is our precious Conor jading over, growing up and abandoning his wild ways? Cassadaga is an attempt to convince, but he’ll most likely still be spitting into microphones, stumbling over amplifiers and wrangling up girls with nice shoes on the album’s supporting tour. Just as he should be. VS