Review : Yellow Ostrich - Strange Land
PitchforkEven when he's surrounded, solitude seems to suit Yellow Ostrich's Alex Schaaf. Strange Land-- Yellow Ostrich's first as a trio-- finds Schaaf running marathons, taking late night drives, occupying his bedroom, alone with everyone. Nearly every lyric begins with a lonesome-sounding "I" that suggests all the time Schaaf's spent in his own head; the ones that don't mostly opt for a distant "you," a direct address that still feels separated by the crackle of cellphone static or that anticipatory beat between texts. "I am the elephant king/ But I am lonely," an unusually metaphorical Schaaf lets go around Strange Land's one-minute mark, right as new bandmates Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez tumble into the frame. Schaff's a lonely soul, but on Strange Land, he's in good company.
The addition of drummer Tapper and jack-of-all-trades Natchez has opened up Yellow Ostrich's sound considerably. Natchez's subtle instrumental flourishes color in the spaces Yellow Ostrich's debut, The Mistress, drawing stark lines through, while Tapper's alternately tricky and tender rhythms help push along Schaaf's not-infrequent compositional shifts. He's still quite fond of the long, slow build, but Schaaf's songs have grown impressively dexterous, nimbly hopping from aching verse to pleading chorus while sidestepping overarrangement or stumbling constructions. Natchez's swaths of strings and hints of woodwind complement Schaaf's pleading, barely post-adolescent vocals particularly well, lending just the right kind of gravity to Schaff's effusive emoting without standing in its way....full text
ConsequenceofsoundYellow Ostrich teeters on the thin line between self-indulgent and meditative on Strange Land, followup to the 2010 debut The Mistress. Songs drag on, ideas get flogged until they lose their punch. You want to reach out, put a hand on their shoulders, and kindly say, “Enough. Don’t mess up a good thing.”
And then right there accompanying notes for the album, it starts to make sense. They self-produced Strange Land. A ruthless editor wasn’t there trim them up and give the album shape.
It’s a shame, because Strange Land brims with good ideas. The melodies shine like melting ice — that cold prickle that makes the world feel expectant and peeled naked in the spring after a long winter. Singer Alex Schaaf controls his pinched, plaintive voice carefully like a thread on a needle, but occasionally breaks out to attack the lyrics with white-knuckled venom (his declaration “I am a hot-air balloon on a sail boat” on “Marathon Runner” comes off bigger than life and demands attention).
Schaaf started Yellow Ostrich off in Wisconsin as a solo project, then moved to New York and joined with multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper. It gives this second album a collaborative edge. Their inventive percussion is a highlight here and works well in tandem with Schaaf’s unconventional, nonlinear songwriting approach. His own voice makes good percussion, too, like the mantra “We can make a deal, I know it.” He intones it over and over until it’s takes on new meanings and then loses them. That’s where the album falls successfully into a meditative, itchy trance — appropriate, since lyrically Schaaf is working out issues here of skin-crawling loneliness and, as the title indicates, feeling strange and out-of-place....full text
PastemagazineYellow Ostrich mainstay Alex Schaaf likely has some rather itchy feet. After spending about two decades in his home state of Wisconsin, he pulled up his roots and replanted them to cover Brooklyn’s coordinates. At only two years in, it’s still applicable to call a new album Strange Land. It could be for the obvious reasoning—moving to a new timezone with far less dairy and such—but it could also refer to a brand new artistic dynamic. All during Schaaf’s time in the Midwest, Yellow Ostrich existed as a solo effort. However, since his relocation, two new minds gradually came into the equation. Be it a slow adjustment to Brooklyn’s coconut water bottle-littered streets or just to the dynamic of working in a trio, Schaaf’s working through his discomfort through melodic, guitar-heavy pop. Lucky for us.
Strange Land marks Schaaf’s third full-length under his Yellow Ostrich moniker. His first, the totally solo-crafted Wild Comfort, dropped in 2010 and works as an adorable example of bedroom music. The next year, he enlisted help from former Bishop Allen drummer Michael Tapper to craft The Mistress—and cue the blog crowd group wave. The Mistress certainly got certain pop aficionado circles vigorously nodding heads with its accessible, carefree jubilee. It was evident that Schaaf and new drummer Michael Tapper meshed artistically like a dream—as a duo, it flowed. However, be it because the addition of new energy (multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez added circa last fall) or some environmental confusion, Strange lacks the same immediate coherency Mistress seemed to glean effortlessly.
Schaaf keeps repeating how Strange is different because it’s not just him, it’s a band. And right now, the album kind of sounds likes just that—several people’s ideas polarized in certain elements and songs. However, be it because the addition of new energy (multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez added circa last fall) or some environmental confusion, Strange lacks the same immediate coherency Mistress seemed to glean effortlessly....full text
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