Thursday, March 13, 2014

Swell Album: Yellow Ostrich - Cosmos [indie rock]

Before moving to New York and subsequently signing to Seattle's Barsuk Records, Yellow Ostrich's singer/guitarist Alex Schaaf lived in Wisconsin. He was the frontman of indie rock band The Chairs for a couple years then went solo as Yellow Ostrich in 2009, recording heartfelt numbers on his 4-track that caught my attention for the raw emotion and experimental layering and sampling of his youthful voice (check out 2010's interesting Fade Cave EP for 6 songs he recorded using nothing but his voice and a drum machine). When Schaaf moved to Brooklyn he had already released a total of five EPs and two full-lengths.

Yellow Ostrich's third full-length The Mistress (and fifth release of 2010!) marked the first Y.O. recording that Schaaf made with another human being, current drummer Michael Tapper. After giving The Mistress a proper release in 2011, Barsuk went on to release the following year's excellent full-length Strange Land and the R&B-influenced Ghost EP. Since joining the Barsuk roster, the band has experienced a few personnel changes but currently stands at four members. With their current lineup, Yellow Ostrich brings us their fifth album Cosmos, which was inspired by astronomer Carl Sagan's documentary series of the same name.

As the title of the album suggests, Yellow Ostrich's sound has expanded skyward since Schaaf's solo days by taking on a fuller, at times frantic, rock sound and by inviting celestial synths and electronic effects into the mix to allow for more intricate, atmospheric melodies, recalling Local Natives or Radiohead ("Neon Fists", particularly). Notwithstanding these changes, Yellow Ostrich still is and will always be led by Schaaf's sincere, tender voice, which quavers along gently with the melodies of softer songs like "My Moons", "You Are The Stars", and "Don't Be Afraid", but explodes like a supernova through the heavier walls of sound on tracks like "Shades", "Any Wonder", and "How Do You Do It?". Somehow, Cosmos manages to be Yellow Ostrich's loudest and smoothest record at the same time, thanks to the band's cohesive instrumentation and songwriting and the excellent production of Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Superchunk, Sparklehorse) and Paul Kolderie (Pixies, Radiohead, Dinosaur, Jr.).

Listen to the full album stream below and purchase your own copy here. Also, enjoy my favorite tracks from Yellow Ostrich's three previous records.

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