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Lemme Get an Encore: Daniel Rossen (of Grizzly Bear & Department of Eagles)

Our set list wish list.

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A lone Daniel Rossen has never hit the stage solo before, but we have high hopes for his upcoming U.S. tour, kicking off on March 22nd in Seattle, WA. The frontman for both Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, Rossen’s strong yet relaxed tenor and masterful guitar technique bring to mind aspects of Nick Drake and Joanna Newsom. With a rich catalogue of crowd-pleasers and B-sides to draw from, he should evoke similarly awestruck reactions. Aside from material from his two main projects, Rossen also has his fantastic Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP, released late in 2012. This original material holds a number of intuitive stories perfect for an intimate setting, ranging from band feuds to relationship experiences. Here’s our wish list of tracks that could grace his set list when he hits the road.

“Family Romance” (from Department of Eagles’ The Cold Nose)

Department of Eagles wasn’t always as folky as they sound on In Ear Park. Rossen and bandmate Fred Nicolaus’s first batch of material, The Cold Nose (recorded in 2003), was more electronic, made up of an assortment of sampled soundbites, danceable layers, and hilariously, a rap dedicated to Playstation 2 and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4. “Family Romance” feels more connected to the rest of the band’s catalog, coated with sweet acoustic guitar strums and whimsical, romantic lyrics. Even though Nicolaus provides vocals on the studio recording, Rossen could manage them just as capably, inspiring the freedom to “let your hair down.”

“Little Brother” (from Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House)

The range of fingerpicking styles and speeds packed into Yellow House highlight “Little Brother” is staggering, supplying a wealth of intense dynamics, from mere silence, to body percussion, to cloudy eruptions. The band reproduces the track with fewer complicated movements in concert (featured on the Friend EP), but maybe a private setting would inspire a new approach. Rossen could even come equipped with a sampler loaded with vocal harmonies, making the complex transitions easier to reproduce.

“On a Neck, On a Spit” (from Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House)

Similar to “Little Brother”, Grizzly Bear sliced the haunting intro of “On a Neck, On a Spit” to better fit their live set. The second half races excitedly straight from take-off, one of the few moments where jumping up and down to a Grizzly Bear song seems appropriate. Rossen can utilize the song’s body percussion to pump adrenaline through his acoustic guitar and invigorate his audience, creating a booming effect in an intimate venue.

“Deep Blue Sea” (from Grizzly Bear’s Friend EP)

“Deep Blue Sea” is a hidden gem in the expansive Grizzly Bear catalog, appearing on the feature-loaded Friend EP and massive Dark Was the Night compilation. Even though it doesn’t have a specific home, it still takes a unique blueprint from the Yellow House sessions. We could catch Rossen barely whispering, gliding against his guitar strings, more straightforward than the album’s psychedelic folk approach. Its short and sweet touch will break the tension among Rossen’s deeper cuts.

“Too Little Too Late” (JoJo Cover)

“Get out!” (Pun intended). Daniel Rossen does a killer cover of JoJo’s pop ballad “Too Little Too Late”. What’s originally a sassy, slap-in-the-face pop single is transformed into a simultaneously soothing and haunting collage of echoing harmonies and guitar textures. We might not be able to imagine Rossen seductively stepping into the rain like the teen pop star did in the song’s video, but he could surely get his own intent across with his honeyed vocals.

“Phantom Other” (from Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park)

Rossen’s return to Department of Eagles in 2008 wasn’t without stirred emotions and band issues from the Grizzly Bear camp. While Yellow House suggests passionate chemistry between Rossen and Ed Droste, behind-the-scenes conflicts proved otherwise. “Phantom Other” is Rossen’s wake-up call, an attempt to break away from Droste’s apparent lack of cooperation. He piles on these statements with doubt, crooning, “What will it take to make you listen?” with the possibility of never finding a solution. The trouble eventually becomes a lingering burden: “My god in heaven/ What were we thinking?”

Thankfully, the bandmates have now reconciled and are closer than ever, as evinced by the democracy on Veckitamest and Shields. Still, “Phantom Other” would serve as an intriguing experiment within Rossen’s set, sparks of aggressive heat that could just as easily be largely absent from his set.

“Balmy Night” (from Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park)

In avoiding “my broken record [that’s] always on,” “Balmy Night” pays difficult tribute to the past and looks at the potential of escape, all in the midst of some impressive banjo chops. Rossen’s flamenco playing should, by all accounts, tie his fingers in knots, but he ranges it easily, building a starry foundation. His sweet, yet shaky crooning of the line “my father told me never to run” reveals unsettled fears and a cry for guidance. While the song is brief, seeing those fingers fly across the banjo would make for a thrilling moment.

“Dory” (from Grizzly Bear’s Veckitamest)

Accompanied by swells of strings from the London City Orchestra, the live arrangement of “Dory” allows Grizzly Bear to freely “let loose in the bay.” The band’s stripped interpretation, previously featured on NPR’s World Cafe before the release of Veckitamest, brings to bear a more minimalist beauty. The song tests every aspect of Rossen’s vocal range, starting on a relaxed croon, but grasping for shrill beauty as he reaches his falsetto in its second chorus. His guitar steps forgo the toe-dip test and dive headfirst into an undersea adventure. Considering its expansive nature and emotional punch, “Dory” could be a real centerpiece.

“While We’re Young” (from Department of Eagles’ Archive 2003-2006)

“While We’re Young” is Rossen’s YOLO anthem. “If we’re gonna do this, we gotta do it now/ While we’re young” seems out of character with Rossen’s normally balanced, tame perspective, but he sings it with conviction. Among both band’s catalogs, this track has one of the catchiest vocal hooks in its glaring question, “What are you trying to prove?” Laced in sweet falsetto, this could be a real sing-along moment. Its swift instrumentation pounds deep into the subconscious of the record, assuring that a live performance would be unforgettable.

“Sleeping Ute” (from Grizzly Bear’s Shields)

Rossen’s finger-stretching fretwork on “Sleeping Ute” is a commanding, guitar-dominated movement unique to Grizzly Bear’s catalog. Between the distorted neck exploration and fingerpicking, he fluctuates between adventure and tranquility, staring through “those figures in the leaves/ And that light through the smoke,” presumably at or near Colorado’s Sleeping Ute Mountain. While Grizzly Bear’s version is a journey from up close and personal to grand and expansive, it’s easy to imagine the vivid intimacy of Rossen’s isolated imagination.

“Golden Apple” (from Department of Eagles‘ Archive 2003-2006)

The stunning grand piano reverberations of Silent Hour/Golden Mile track “Saint Nothing” make the song one of Rossen’s most commanding statements to date. A live rendition of “Golden Apple”, though, would cover similar ground, but with the kind of intimate, conversational storytelling that would shrink even the largest venues. Rather than relying on a pristine saint, a “myth, white with age,” Rossen points to simplicity in love. Fighting for commitment and focusing on perfection is exhausting and pointless, influencing the deep croon of “let’s rest” instead. A set-closer like this would leave a crowd in awe of the songwriter’s mastery behind the keys.

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