Cassadaga took me by surprise upon first listening. The once raw stripped down, almost "unplugged" sound of previous Bright Eyes releases was taken away and replaced with a much cleaner, more produced sound. That's not to say that Conor Oberst has given in to acclaimed mainstream stardom, his style remains, and his ingenious poetry still manages to captivate and touch in ways only previously accomplished by Bob Dylan. A tough analogy indeed, but such is the quality of Bright Eyes lyrics, and a comparison made so quaint and often in todays society where each Bright Eyes album has brought the "wunderkid" more and more critical acclaim upon each release.
The album opens as expected with any Bright Eyes album, a slow building attack on mainstream music - usually including atmospheric noises and speach, as a way of telling everyone that this is something you have not heard before, and you would not expect it on anybody else's CD. The song eventually evolves into a beautiful acoustic Indie Folk track, very similar to work from his previous album "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning".
"Four Winds" is the first single to be released, which showcases Oberst's new polished sound coupled with a "firefly soundtrack"-sounding string quartet so aptly used through the whole album. Soaring acoustic guitars and powerful strung chords coupled with fragile honest lyrics shows one of Oberst's best songs to date. Obviously a God-fearing man, but knowledgable of the increasing problems in todays society, his broad vocabulary tells the lot in an trully extraordinary track.
"If The Brakeman Turns My Way" is another different sounding Bright Eyes track, led by simple piano chords. His strong intuition on using chord progression is brought across wonderfully, and he manages to captivate emotion and setting to perfection on this sombre tune.
"Hot Knives" sounds similar to some of the tracks from 2002 outing "Lifted..." - with a fuzzy effect surrounding the guitar work. Again, Conor Oberst's emotive lyrics and fragile, often narcissistic voice bring out the true beauty of the song, and his poetic writing ceases to astound time and time again. The song eventually fades into the beautiful, soulful "Make a Plan to Love Me", where the full orchestra backs the folk singer to create an atmospheric slice on the album.
"Soul Singer In a Session Band" and "Classic Cars" sound like some of Ryan Adams work (not a bad thing at all) - and give the album a sort of Rock 'n' Roll, Bluesy feel, adding another twist to the ever changing Bright Eyes sound. "Middleman" showcases, in my oppinion, one of Oberst's best songs to date. The string quartet slouching along with the finger picking guitar and jungle beat drums adds another turn in the sound of the album, and creates a very quaint, warm feeling to the album.
The sound quickly changes, however, to the melancholy "No One Would Riot For Less" - another politically charged song, deep in emotion and musical depth - not that you would expect anything less from a songwriting genious such as Conor Oberst. "Coat Check Dream Song" sound like some of Bright Eyes more upbeat, electronic stuff, reminiscent of previous album "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" - with heavier, dominating drum beats and more frontal lyrics, rather than his subdued style often portrayed on this outing.
The closing songs "I Must Belong Somewhere" and "Lime Tree" close the album wonderfully, switching back to the acoustic, folkey sound - again very similar to some of Ryan Adams work, and possess powerful, honest lyrics about life, and lonliness and compassion. The album surely closes, and leaves a fulfilled feel in your stomach.
All in all, an absolutely fantastic release in which everybody will gain something from. Oberst's vast knowledge on many a subject; always an oppinion to share, and always a song to sing. His obsessive compulsion to create masterpieces is becoming a formality, and one that his listeners are welcoming with open arms.