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Album Review: Dept. of Eagles – In Ear Park

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I don’t know what Ear Park is, nor do I know its location, but after one listen through the latest from Department of Eagles, I feel as if I’ve just been taken there. Daniel Rossen has a knack for creating atmospheric tunes, as his work with Grizzly Bear would rightfully show. His ability to create lush acoustic soundscapes ripe with warm instrumentation and overwhelming harmonies is one of a kind, allowing delicately prominent noise and moody open space to be respectively plentiful and balanced.

With three of the four members of Grizzly Bear in some way assisting with the album’s production, In Ear Park sounds as if it could just as well be billed as a Grizzly Bear album, with little complaint. But the story behind In Ear Park seems to be a bit more complex. The Los Angeles native says he chose to place these songs with his other outfit, a project in the works for several years, because he felt the songs were too personal for a Grizzly Bear album. Alongside Fred Nicolaus, the other principle member of the band, he wanted to try some new things, including a greater focus on more concise songwriting and structures.  Noting these thoughts, the material does appear more “concise,” with less space and mood building than that found on Yellow House, Grizzly Bear’s 2006 effort, but could just as easily be mistaken for Grizzly Bear nonetheless.

The album begins with sporadic harp-like acoustic pluckings and the faint creaking of wood, immediately creating the same surreal feel found on Yellow House. Soon the delicate instrumentation is joined by Rossen’s soft and gentle vocals, slowly pulling you in, before drums leisurely make their way into the mix.  As the song picks up with the addition of louder drumming and piano, so does its catchiness. Here it becomes clear that, like he said, Rossen is attempting to make more succinct music. Where Grizzly Bear wanders into endless whimsical instrumentation, Department of Eagles allows for similar instrumentation to heed the course of the song and end before things get too crazy. This sets Department of Eagles apart from Rossen’s other outfit, but only ever so slightly.

The album continues on smoothly into “No One Does It Like You”. Noticeably louder than the opening title track, the song displays the strongest and most straightforward of structures found on the album. Whistles, Bursting drums, handclaps, and a bouncing bassline carry the tune as Rossen admits “No one does it like you/No one does it like you/ But I try so hard.” Like most of the album’s songs, when vocal harmonies exist, they explode and overpower, in an almost paradoxical manner. The vocals are smooth, soft, and delicate, but simultaneously overwhelming and loud, almost reminiscent of the way in which Elliott Smith tinkered with his voice on From a Basement on a Hill or how Brian Wilson uses vocal harmonies. The album’s organically smooth feel elegantly displays just how much attention Rossen and co. have paid to meticulous production.

The album continues, utilizing the same techniques, delicately exploding with faint snare drum rolls, timpani drums, glimmering electric guitars, piano keys, deep and rich strings, bird chirps, perplexing percussions, and ever-present beautiful harmonies. But it is “Teenagers,” which seems to stand apart from the rest in its sound, which immediately harkens to the musical and vocal stylings found on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As military drums and high pitched piano keys play alongside handclaps, the song further exemplifies Rossen’s attempts at a more pop inclined sound.

As far as the lyrical content found on the album, the songs seem to center around the themes of nostalgic memories, but are abstract enough to dismiss any woes about them being too personal. “Floating on the Lehigh” appears to mourn the loss of someone or something: “Carry me to rest now . . . We’re letting go forever/ Why you insist on leaving this song till the end I’ll never know,” and  “Classical Records” is a sad look at the tragedy of something forgotten: “Do you listen to your classical records/Or do you let them sleep in their sleeves where they weep?” You’ll sing a long to the catchy melodies, but quite possibly won’t have any idea what you are talking about as you do it.

As the album comes to an end, it immediately begs for another listen. The warm and cozy house that is In Ear Park creaks and echoes throughout its duration. It’s an old mansion of sound, haunted only by its pleasingly disorienting resonance. With each listen, the eleven magnificent tracks sound slightly different, boasting their rich qualities. They seem simple and light at a glance, but ultimately are the result of intricate plucking, well planned banging, and even more complex production. The fact that they appear so effortlessly invented is further proof of their quality. Much is to be found In Ear Park and it would be a shame not to explore something so vast and exciting.

Check Out:
“In Ear Park”
“No One Does It Like You”

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