New music with a hint of vintage psychedelia seems to be in vogue now. Bombay Bicycle Club, Tame Impala and even Panda Bear make variations of neo-psychedelic music. Generally the sound is a clean and almost synthesized pop sound. Daniel Rossen on the other hand adds a rustic sheen to this genre that at its best recalls Neil Young. This earthy nature has been a consistent signature of his solo projects and his work with Grizzly Bear.
If you’re a fan of Rossen, you are likely comfortable with the sound he’s developed through the years with his many side projects. Before he settled into the brooding neo Victorian psychedelic indie pop of his current material, he was making wildly experimental music with his first band Department of Eagles.
Like your first car or date, a musician never forgets their first band (or do they?). The Department of Eagles could be seen as a testing ground for sharpening Rossen’s skills as a musician. By the time I discover Rossen’s former work life, he was devoting more of his attention to his excellent new band Grizzly Bear.
To hear The Department of Eagles first LP The Cold Nose or Whitely on the Moon UK LP, (depending on which of the two reissues you heard), you would have been treated to a interesting blend of electronic samples and a hodge podge of musical styles held together by a lighthearted spirit of fun.
Imagine Stereolab meets Beach House meets Radiohead and you would come close to the layered and sometimes dense sound The Department of Eagles created for The Cold Nose. Aside from Rossen, the other half of the ‘Eagles’ consisted of Fred Nicolaus who likely did much of the songwriting. On the few songs with singing, the vocals sound flat and almost monotone, a far cry from the ghostly nasal whine of Rossen with Grizzly Bear.
Whoever it was singing on “Romo Goth”, they sounded like a hyped up Low . Vocals however are not really what The Cold Noise was about. Some songs are mostly samples and bits (of other music) that can at times feel very hip hop/club/DJ-centric as on “The Curious Butterfly Realizes He is Beautiful”.
Overall this is not the easiest album to listen to unless you are doing something intense. Its restless tempo often teeters between Radiohead-like calm of songs like “Sailing By Night” to the freakout jazz pacing of “Noam Chomsky Spring Break 2002”.
Actually, nearly all the songs take liberties with tempo and pacing in a way that might suggest the band had fun during recording. Through the craziness, some bits of a restrained future can be heard in a few songs or in parts of songs. “Day School/Rooster and “Family Romance” are great examples of what the future of The Department of Eagles would sound like.
After this album Rossen would sharpen his musical focus and Nicolaus his songwriting skills significantly. The delayed fruits of that labor can be heard on In Ear Park, the band’s best album so far and one of 2012’s best releases. Of the many neo-psychedelic rock albums out there, few are as bold, fun and experimental as The Cold Noise.