Release Date: Mar 6, 2012
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Millenial musings bursting like bubbles Yellow 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.
Alex Schaaf’s musical project Yellow Ostrich (which most recently added bass/horns player Jon Natchez to the mix) breaks out gorgeous harmonies and clean instrumentals on each of the 10 tracks of Strange Land. “Elephant King” begins the sophomore album with a short, yet interesting series of playbacks and overdubs before completely falling right into the pleasant rut of indie-pop rock. While the lyrics are a little repetitive, the catchy rhythms make this a solid album for spring.
Review Summary: The sound of a band becoming a band.Back in 2009, Alex Schaaf was making modest music in a modest room. The moniker was Yellow Ostrich; the music was endearing, if overly humble bedroom-folk. Not much to write home about, but I’d made that point well enough in my review of that eponymous debut. I certainly didn’t think I’d be making two more self-referential (read: self-indulgent) introductions to two more Yellow Ostrich album reviews.
Yellow Ostrich's follow-up to 2011's Mistress, 2012's Strange Land is a forceful and passionate step forward for the N.Y.C.-based trio. Where Mistress was lightly experimental, gently melodic, and rambling, Strange Land is a muscular and tightly wound collection of electric guitar mini-epics that burn with a forward momentum merely hinted at in lead singer/songwriter Alex Schaaf's previous endeavors. This isn't to say Schaaf has completely forsaken the layered and organic production of Mistress.
Even 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.
Yellow OstrichStrange Land[Barsuk; 2012]By Jay Lancaster; March 8, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetAt some point in 2009, Alex Schaaf converted his bedroom into a musical playground. His moniker was Yellow Ostrich, and his genre hinged on whatever he felt like releasing at the moment. Recording in his room gave him the freedom to experiment with different styles and textures on a low budget; his ventures ranged from heartrending acoustic movements to electropop Morgan Freeman tributes.
Last year's The Mistress was primarily the work of Alex Schaaf; Strange Land sees the Yellow Ostrich moniker expand to a three-piece, bringing on drummer Michael Tapper and multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez as full-timers. Meshing his loop-rich bedroom pop with a live band sound yields uneven results: the thickly layered, self-harmonizing vocal loops are one of the project's most compelling characteristics, and they're sometimes lost in the indie pop instrumental trappings that just aren't as distinctive. When they manage to gel the old style with the new, giving each element equal spotlight (such as in the propulsive rock single "Marathon Runner" or the gradually building "I Want Yr Love"), they make an enticing case for expansion.
Yellow 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.
Yellow Ostrich is a trio of swollen, New York-by-way-of-Wisconsin howlers that make trembling indie rock about loving someone who doesn't love you back. It almost makes too much sense that debut effort Strange Land is being put out by Seattle indie Barsuk. Weaned on the heartsick vibrations of Bright Eyes and once-Barsukians Death Cab for Cutie, Yellow Ostrich wrote a compelling high school album, the sort of thing that desperately searches for your attention.
Things have been good for Alex Schaaf. After releasing his debut full-length as Yellow Ostrich in 2010, Schaaf moved to New York City, gained two additional band members and started making music in the studio instead of his bedroom. As a result, the music that accompanies Yellow Ostrich on its latest Barsuk release, Strange Land, has a much fuller sound.During the first couple of seconds of album opener “Elephant King,” there’s a moment where the band adjusts its instruments and gets ready to perform.