Since beginning his solo project Yellow Ostrich, singer-guitarist Alex Schaaf has been making music prolifically and with fanatical focus. Within a couple of years of its inception, while Schaaf was still a college student, Yellow Ostrich had recorded two full-length albums and three EPs, each of which barreled with blinders on in a direction that had little in common with that of the previous release. In 2009, one of Yellow Ostrich’s earlier releases, The Serious Kids EP, consisted of a six-track foray into acousti-fied electronic dance music. The same month, a Morgan Freeman tribute EP surfaced on the group’s Bandcamp page. Suffice it to say that Schaaf doesn’t shy away from experimentation, nor the prospect of devoting an entire album to that experimentation.
Yellow Ostrich has grown since those days. Having added drummer Michael Tapper, and then, later on, bassist Zach Rose and Jared Van Fleet on keys, Schaaf remains the center of the band. Though as a solo artist, the sheer amount of sound Schaaf was able to orchestrate was impressive, it’s difficult now to imagine Yellow Ostrich without Tapper’s drum work. But though beefier instrumentation makes Schaaf’s penchant for big, unpredictable themes a bit less obvious, those deeply delved-into concept albums are by no means an outgrown phase for Yellow Ostrich.
By way of preparation, Schaaf moved into the band’s windowless Brooklyn practice space for nine months before writing the songs on Cosmos. There, he studied astronomy, and artificially recreated of the cycle of daylight and night in lieu of going outside. When he did start to write, the album developed an obsession with darkness and light. “Pull the shades down and never let go,” Schaaf intones on “Shades,” and then inverts the image in the following track with the wearily repeated line “hiding under the brightest light.” Less poppy and more violent than anything the group had so far put out, Schaaf’s vocals cycle over delicate electronics and heavy guitars like waves crashing unenthusiastically against a wooden dock at nighttime.
For all its well-researched complexities, Cosmos retains the element that’s been threaded through all of Yellow Ostrich’s deviations: it assumes, for lack of a better term, a sense of wonder in its audience. It’s easy to find sections of Schaaf’s vocal track precious, his looping melodies boring. The group has, in interviews, expressed preference for playing college campuses, and it’s easy to see why: the ideal Yellow Ostrich fan is deeply enthrall-able and eager to suspend disbelief. Even if the group’s grand, far-flung scope won’t appeal to all listeners, the prospect of being invited to dig deep in this album adds an allure to the deceptively catchy, pulsing echoes of Cosmos.
Walk, don’t fly, over to Facebook for more Yellow Ostrich. Listen to “Shades,” off Cosmos, below: