Yellow Ostrich began as a solo project Alex Schaaf started a few years back in Wisconsin. Unlike fellow Wisconsin native Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Schaaf didn’t lock himself away in a remote cabin in the woods to make music. He did almost the exact opposite, in fact. After developing a strong local following, he packed his bags and moved to New York. There he hooked up with Bishop Allen drummer Michael Tapper to develop Yellow Ostrich’s second album The Mistress. That earned the attention of Barsuk Records, who signed the band and re-released that sophmore full length late last summer. By that time multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez had joined the band and they were already in the early stages of developing a follow-up. Strange Land is the result, and the triumvirate of collaboration broadens their sound more than ever before. The earlier Yellow Ostrich efforts were built largely on a mixture of guitars and vocal loops, but this full band approach appears to be the sort of medicine needed for them to truly break out of the shell they’ve been hiding in. They now appear as a band prepared to conquer the world with these songs, and they’re practically built for a uniquely engaging live show. Yet all is not well in Yellow Ostrich’s world. In spite of the record’s overwhelming enthusiasm, the band takes its eye off the prize more than a few times. A number of tracks, including “Daughter” and “I Want Yr Love”, skate perilously close to the 5 minute mark, and listening to them can sometimes feels more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. Longer songs aren’t bad, but when you realize there was a great cut-off point that went ignored 2 minutes earlier, frustration quickly sets in. Quite simply, the band gets a little greedy and can’t always keep their melodies as sharp and focused as they should be. It doesn’t help that they produced the album on their own, because nobody was around to teach them about streamlining their approach. Nobody told them what a memorable hook sounds like either, apparently. You may come away from Strange Lands being unable to recall much of it. Playfulness and energy, not to mention the sonic innovations compared to the last record, doesn’t make up for a touch of restraint and one more wallop of the chorus. But Yellow Ostrich is still a growing band, as clearly evidenced by the personnel expansion over their last two albums. In spite of its faults, Strange Lands shows a band with great promise for the future. Now might be a great time to start paying attention.

Yellow Ostrich – Marathon Runner
Yellow Ostrich – The Shakedown

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