I think I speak for a lot of other people who have uprooted their entire life and moved 900+ miles away to a foreign land where ‘democracy’ takes place to take a paid internship for their favorite news organization’s music division and then decided to go to New York City (for the first time) with friends for Thanksgiving because the bus ticket was way cheaper than flying home even though it’ll be the first time in 26 years that you’ve missed eating turkey with your family, but oh yeah, you also have to move every one of your earthly possessions to another residence the day before that happens because it just so happens to coincide with the end of your amazing roommate from high school’s lease.
Right, everyone? Cool.
I’m stoked to hit up NYC for the first time. As someone who comes from a relatively poor background, travel outside of the Penis Gun Freakyland is prohibitively expensive. You can’t just take a weekend jaunt to anywhere not called “South Virginia.”
Point is, I don’t recommend trying to maneuver all of your knick-knacks and tchotchkes to a new abode the night before that happens. I digress, because my bags are already packed. I’m a winner, guys.
So named after the mysterious town in my home state, known for its clairvoyants and psychic colonies, the packaging for Cassadaga cannot be understated:
So good, in fact, it won a Grammy in 2008.
The album comes with a spectral decoder, just like the ones packaged in boxes of cereal when toys were still a thing and eating cereal was about prizes and not sugar.
It’s a sweet additive to an album that already has a bevy of deep and inventive thematic content about it. Cassadaga is a real town, and some of the lyrics on this record are based on the fact that it’s a site for spiritual mediums to converge.
I actually have not been there myself, despite living at one point in my life just a few hours from it. But I do have plans to visit it at the end of next month. Should said plans actually be executed, I’ll be sure to… do nothing with/keep the reports all to myself.
There is a certain level of spookiness because of the city on which the album is based, but those strange vibes are offset by songs like “Soul Singer in a Session Band” and “Classic Cars,” which are not only indications to Conor’s future work with The Mystic Valley Band and under his own name, but also toward his much more conventional rock stylings. Where Digital Ash was an industrial electro-scuzz album and I’m Wide Awake was straight up indie folk, this album is neither of the two, instead aiming for a sound that feels very much like Americana.
Songs like the aforementioned “Classic Cars,” and “I Must Belong Somewhere,” though upbeat and far more chipper than the rest of Oberst’s work, fall in line with his comparisons to the work of Bob Dylan. The man knows how to write a song – and I suppose Dylan does, too.
For me, Cassadaga is an enjoyable listen throughout, even if the overriding theme falls off at times in favor of folk-inspired narratives. I kind of wish there was more of the ghost tour anthems, like “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” and “Four Winds.” Try as he may to leave the niche, Conor does the grit work and the doom-and-gloom as good as any indie singer-songwriter since the turn of the century.
In some ways, it doesn’t make any sense at all that Cassadaga sets out to be about the spiritually-charged town, but gets sidetracked into Americana. I thought we all loved Ghost Hunters, Conor?
Oh well. Good record.
From Cassadaga, this is “Lime Tree” –
Standout tracks: “Four Winds,” “Middleman,” and “No One Would Riot for Less”
Weakest track: “Make a Plan to Love Me” is too syrupy.
RIYL: Palm reading.