Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Department of Eagles - 'Archive 2003-2006' (Bella Union)

After the success of last year’s Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear are on the cusp of the indie world, getting airtime on radio and articles written about them in music magazines and blogs around the world. It may come as a reaction to this sudden success that guitarist and co-songwriter Daniel Rossen’s side project Department Of Eagles have decided to release this mish mash of demo's and unused songs. People who have been familiar with Grizzly Bear for longer than a year, or have become so enamoured of Veckatimest may have decided to forage into their back catalogue, will hopefully be familiar with Department Of Eagles’ spectacular 2008 album In Ear Park. This new Archive release collects together several pieces from even earlier on than the sessions that would form that album. So for fans, there will certainly be at least a little pique in interest at news of this release.

Looking at the album tracklist doesn’t fill one with much hope of finding something substantial; five of the eleven tracks are entitled “Practice Room Sketch [1-5].” However all doubt at the necessity for this release is vanquished once the first Practice Room Sketch is passed and we hit the one-two punch of “Deadly Disclosure” and “While We’re Young;” two songs that are not demos at all but complete, polished and most importantly, really good. In fact almost all the actual tracks on this collection are absolutely worthwhile.

Unlike In Ear Park which seemed like a stop-gap between Grizzly Bear’s second and third albums Yellow House and Veckatimest, these songs are much simpler, quicker paced and lacking in much of the grandiosity and orchestral flourishes that have become a signature of Grizzly Bear’s sound. Mostly here we have just guitar and drums, with the odd sprinkle of a violin or xylophone. The hooks come entirely from Rossen’s vocals that float atop the guitars, which vary from propulsive to dreamy and he often beautifully harmonises with his partner Fred Nicolaus.

Although the best tracks on this album don’t quite match up to the peaks of Grizzly Bear’s work or even Department Of Eagles’ last album, there are still tracks that sit comfortably alongside them as peers. The best of the bunch are “Brightest Minds” and “Flip;” both fast-paced, rambunctious numbers that chug along with Rossen’s vocals straining, but still managing to sound jovial, and several beautifully placed harmonised vocals. The final “proper” song “Golden Apple” is the closest they come on this release to matching the grandiose style of In Ear Park; ultimately it doesn’t match up to anything on there, but fits perfectly here amongst all the other pleasant leftovers. In fact, even some of the “Practice Room Sketches” are worthwhile. “2” and “4” in particular are almost complete songs, and the lo-fi demo sound they possess gives them a charm idiosyncratic in the Grizzly Bear/DoE catalogue. Any really big fans of Department Of Eagles may also have fun picking out guitar and vocal melodies scattered throughout the album that did end up being used on In Ear Park.

Overall, Archive 2003-2006 is unlikely to attract new listeners. For those who are versed in the music of Department Of Eagles and Grizzly Bear, for little over 30 minutes of your time this definitely falls into the ‘worth a listen’ category; not quite reaching ‘must buy’ status.

Words: Rob Hakimian

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