Sound — 9
Bright Eyes's sound is maturing in leaps with every album. After the 2005 masterpieces Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning the band has now released their sixth studio album and the sound of the band is more complete then ever. Bright Eyes is made up of three permanent members Conor Oberst (guitar/singer/songwriter), Mike Mogis (misc. instruments/production), and Nate Walcott (orchestral arrangements/ misc. instruments/production) with countless guest musicians appearing on individual tracks. On Cassadaga Bright Eyes's songs are deeper and more layered then ever before featuring beautiful orchestral arrangements and instruments ranging from synthesizers to dobros, mandolins, guitars, pianos, vibraphones, and varying forms of percussion. Conor's insightful lyrics are as sharp-witted as ever and his unique fragile vocals are enforced and accompanied by female choruses on many tracks. The album is soaked in a alternative country rock sound that was originated on Bob Dylan's Jon Wesley Harding. Conor has said before he likes the introduction track to an album to be unappealing to casual listeners and techniques of this are seen in the opening track "Kill or Be Killed". The non-musical elements combined with the unhinged orchestral arrangements make for a intimidating opening minute before giving way to a beautiful acoustic track. The first single off the album is the upbeat rock influenced "Four Winds". The song is layered in violent violin solos and features mandolin and 12 string guitar work. "Four Winds" is at least as strong as any other Bright Eyes single to date. "If the Brakeman Turns My Way" is a slow piano driven drunken ballad and is a prime example of that alternative country sound on the album. The influence in style and sound can be traced back to the organ combined with the vocal melody and arrangement. Later in the album is the masterful "Middleman". The sound on the song is unlike anything Bright Eyes has ever done with beautiful and eerie woodwind arrangements and African percussion. Spoken poetry penetrates the song in the most precise and appropiate moments. The album ends with the eerie and empty sounding "Lime Tree" which is actually one of my least favorite tracks of the thirteen on the album. There is a nice acoustic guitar progression throughout the song and it features some synthesizer work from Conor along with intense female chorus.
Lyrics — 10
Conor has long been compared to the new Bob Dylan and has even been approached on the subject multiple times (he finds it flattering but says he does not see the comparison himself). The comparison is easy to make seeing how they are both thoughtful lyricists, unique singers, and acoustic guitar players. Conor has been a recognized songwriter since he was thirteen and could easily be considered the best lyricist of the new millennium. "The bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, The Qa'Raan is mute/ If you burned them all together you'd get close to the truth" he attacks on the single "Four Winds". And in the upbeat "Soul Singer in a Session Band" Conor exercises his powers of alliteration and consonance in the lines "A red carpet bagger makes a blackberry call/ To the plastic piranhas in the city of salt/ Wasted wheat paste campaign post no bills on the wall/ You mean nothing to no one but that's nobody's fault". Conor has been writing thoughtful and heart felt lyrics for a long time now and is only improving and maturing in age.
Overall Impression — 9
Cassadaga is without doubt Bright Eyes's most mature and complete album. With it's orchestral arrangements, female choruses, and such a variety of misc. instruments it is musically steps above their other albums. The album is thirteen tracks long with every track being some degree of quality. "Middleman", "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", "Four Winds", and "Cleanse Song" are all some of the band's strongest songs ever. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something new that is rooted in why music use to be so good.