Department of Eagles — In Ear Park

In Ear Park

A somewhat piecemeal affair incorporating scats, Streets piss-takes and random Wes Anderson samples (“hi, I’m Wes Anderson”), The Cold Nose was a wilfully eccentric introduction to the music of the Department of Eagles, unflatteringly described by its creators as “what DJ Shadow’s retarded little brother would sound like.”

It was exactly the kind of sporadically inspired goof you might expect from a side project involving talented musicians, except it wasn’t actually a side project at all. Formed out of boredom by New York University roomies Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus back in 2000, DoE garnered moderate acclaim for their debut (originally released as The Whitey On The Moon UK LP in 2003) before finding themselves overshadowed by the success of Yellow House, the sublime sophomore disc by Grizzly Bear, whom Rossen opted to join in 2004.

To make matters worse, The Cold Nose received a UK reissue in 2007 hot on the heels of that release, lending weight to the spurious notion that this was merely Jobbing Grizzle and that business would be resumed with the release of the bigger band’s third LP, currently slated for release early next year.

Through touring commitments with Radiohead to the humdrum business of holding down nine-to-five jobs, however, the ‘Eagles have miraculously pulled a second album out of the bag, and we have this much to be thankful for: In Ear Park is a record that far outstrips its predecessor in terms of both tone and ambition, if bearing sufficient similarities with Rossen’s other band to attract not always-favourable comparisons.

This last should come as no surprise, since Rossen has brought in two of his erstwhile colleagues in bassist Chris Taylor and drummer Chris Bear to give the record a more band-driven aesthetic than evidenced on the beats-and-sample-flecked shenanigans of Cold Nose. Taylor’s work as producer, in particular, allows the more personal nature of the songs to shine (the album title was a childhood haunt of Rossen and his late father), his spacey atmospherics as fragrantly evocative of creaking, stately timbers and ancient dust as it was on Yellow House.

And if the opening, title track adheres closely to Grizzly Bear’s ravishing triangulation of roots, pop and orchestral music in its swift, suite-like progression from twinkling arpeggios to swooning ballroom theatrics, then ‘No One Does It’ takes a more conventional route without losing any of its impact, all svelte barbershop rhythms, handclaps and jauntily proffered ‘ba-ba-baas’. And ‘Phantom Other’ finds an astute middle ground, mixing synthy burbles with the unique timbre of Rossen’s guitar for a rousing crescendo.

If a few songs towards the record’s latter half don’t quite come up to snuff and fail to really do justice to the ethereal woodwinds and lowing strings that bejewel them, it’s a fair trade-off for a record this playful and downright surprising. Ambitious and tonally satisfying to a degree that’s unrecognisable from earlier, kookier forays, In Ear Park is an excellent release and a must for fans of handsomely mounted, structurally astute pop with genuine emotive clout.

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