Yellow Ostrich, Cosmos – album review

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Hatched from the 2009 home recordings of 21-year-old Alex Shaaf, New York band Yellow Ostrich have taken huge sonic leaps throughout their six EPs and three studio albums – now landing themselves on the stark diversity of Cosmos. While, more simply, it is an alt-rock record utilising some electronic percussion, lush guitars and ambient textures, the most striking element to this record is the purposeful contrasting (as their unusual sounding band name might suggest) between the dreamy and the immediate.

Cosmos is an album of dualities – composed by Shaaf and arranged by Drummer Michael Tapper (formerly of We Are Scientists) – one musician writing from a windowless room in Brooklyn, while the other sailed the seas of the North Pacific. Opening the album with a siren-like feedback of guitars and lonely vocals, the drums immediately transport the song back to the unambiguous rock solid walls of a city. Suspense and intrigue are then redeveloped by the lead single “Neon Fists” – which debuts the electronic percussion that plays so well to this album’s mood – and the record continues to alternate in this way from one track to the next. Two new members join Yellow Ostrich for Cosmos and add the invaluable layers of keyboards/guitars (Jared Van Fleet) and bass (Zach Rose) that allow the varied sound of the LP to expand even further.

Sharing their label Barsuk Records with indie favourites Death Cab For Cutie, it is easy to hear the same direct sincerity in Shaaf’s voice. But unlike Ben Gibbard’s detailed storytelling, Shaaf creates lyrics of more abstract observation and yearning. On stand out track “My Moons”, Shaaf sings “I know that you’re busy now… all alone in the orange night… my moons bring me silence, and I am glad for it”. Throughout this track you can sense how the distances of outer-space could reflect the emotional distancing in Shaaf’s world and inspire concepts behind Cosmos. As the song progressively swells with electronic percussion and synths, Shaaf endlessly repeats “I want to float on by”, until he is drowned out by a fantastically well placed layer of pain ridden distorted guitar. It is a cosmic unifying of word, sound and concept and successfully ties together many elements of the album.

Undoubtedly, the ideas of Cosmos have been laboured and hold up throughout, but, like so many records focused on a grand theme, it fails to flow as well as it could and (even if maybe that’s the point) much of Cosmos feels like an ‘either/or’ situation; like the resonance of a band beginning to fuse. This being said, innovation is a difficult and commendable achievement within the genre and it is interesting to hear Yellow Ostrich tease out alternative-rock into so many different directions at once and then occasionally strike a clever balance of subtle complexity.

If you should ever crave that conflict between distorted indie, celestial ambience and electronic tinkers, you may just find satisfaction by feasting your jaws on this bird’s most recent offering.

Cosmos is out on 5th May via Barsuk Records. Yellow Ostrich have just announced their first ever European tour in May. Details on their Facebook page.

amy wright


Review by Amy Wright