Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land

written by: May 10, 2012
Yellow Ostrich - Strange Land album cover Release Date: March 6th, 2012

★★★★☆

In early March, Pop ‘stache covered Yellow Ostrich’s first headlining show in Chicago to a nearly packed crowd. Two days after the release of debut full-length album Strange Land, Yellow Ostrich was looking towards their hectic schedule of festival hoping. Starting off at SXSW, the trio will play Outside Lands, Lollapalooza and Sasquatch.

Front man and core member, Alex Shaaf moved to Brooklyn for his music. After releasing a critically noted EP, The Mistress, which was recorded with only a drum machine and his vocals, Schaaf brought aboard two new members to add dimension. Well-known multi-instrumentalist, Jon Natchez, and symphonic drummer, Michael Tapper, joined forces and Strange Land was born.

Opening track, “Elephant King,” introduces Shaaf’s youthful vocals and progressive melodies. A trumpet glares like a celebratory introduction, and slowly progresses until it clashes in a percussive battle. The song of struggle was formed around the idea of Schaaf’s current self and past self talking to one another.

The trumpet, among other brass and woodwind instruments, is played by multi-instrumentalist, Jon Natchez. Named indie rock’s most valuable side-man by NPR, Natchez contributes to the full-figured sound in Strange Land. In a recent interview with the public radio station, Natchez defined his involvement with acts like Beirut, The Antlers and Bishop Allen:

“I’ve always described myself as a “frosting” guy. I play mainly woodwinds — saxophone, clarinet and flute — and I’ve learned to get around on most brass instruments. I don’t really play drums or guitar very well — none of the things that bake the cake, just the ones that ice it, though I do play a little electric bass.”

The first single, “Marathon Runner,” features catchy drums, lively guitar licks and hopeful vocals. A frenzied loop pedal circles around before Schaaf’s spacious tone sets in. His lyrics are often about evolving through life, and “Marathon Runner” sticks to the theme.

“I Got No Time for You” is dark and mellow. A steady drum beat rolls in and Shaaf’s once-boyish vocals are torn with sorrow. After the last drop fell to the ground, a jolting guitar line chimes in and the drums roar, coated in cymbals. The lyric, “Things would get better” is laid down on repeat, and the vocals turn from sorrow to hopeful.

Strange Land is an eclectic indie pop wonder. Ambient tones, vibrant vocals and organic beats are processed into a tightly woven package. Alex Schaaf’s concepts of struggle and self-discovery are straight-forward and honest. He lets loose in this album, and it pays off. The Wisconsin-native bares his genuine Midwestern persona in a badass New York fashion.

Yellow Ostrich - Strange Land tracklist:

  1. “Elephant King”
  2. “Daughter”
  3. “Marathon Runner”
  4. “I Got No Time for You”
  5. “Stay at Home”
  6. “I Want Yr Love”
  7. “The Shakedown”
  8. “Wear Suits”
  9. “Up in the Mountains”
  10. “When All is Dead”