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Department of Eagles
Archive 2003 - 2006 Michael Waters , August 3rd, 2010 08:44

What we have here is an outtakes compilation from the personal project of Daniel Rossen (of Grizzly Bear fame) and Fred Nicolaus, who he met in shared accommodation at New York University. The eleven tracks expose the lessons learned and the corners turned between each Department of Eagles release.

The band themselves do not look back on 2003's The Cold Nose, describing it as "tossed off". Yet the sample collage on that debut seems to make for one of the few stylistic difference between the Department of Eagles and Grizzly Bear styles. The relics on this new release witness the passing away of the scatterbrained musique concrète approach in favour of the straight-shooting sing-song. The residue of the former manifests in tacked on intros or interludes, and scrappy hip-hop inspired jaunts like 'Forty Dollar Rug' or 'Naom Chompsky Spring Break 2002' are gradually pushed aside by what could be seen as Grizzly Bear demos.

I say "demos", but without knowing the context of their recording, you wouldn't suspect a thing. The tracks sound rather well formed, no doubt as a result of exacting self-judgement on the duo's part. 'Deadly Disclosure' embodies a striking Radiohead influence that has been present since their debut (see 'Sailing By Night' and 'Horse You Ride') and the scale of the choral and string harmonies in 'Golden Apple' goes well beyond that of a rough cut.

Therefore some of these sketches provide an interesting reflection of Rossen's subsequent role in Grizzly Bear. Several motifs from the excellent 'Practice Room Sketch 2', for example, eventually found themselves sprinkled across Yellow House, and a snippet of piano taken from 'Practice Room Sketch 1' also surfaced in 'Easier'. 'While We're Young' - produced with the assistance of Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor - boasts a distinctive instrumental balance and retro, Americana-esque guitar tones and it sounds, accordingly, like it could easily belong with the recording sessions for the last two Bear albums.

Even if a cynic might see this release as Rossen capitalising on increased visibility from the success of their day job, this does not detract from the strength of the material. It has an unlikely sense of cohesion that ensures that Archive 2003-2006 far transcends its role as a document of a work in process.