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Department of Eagles - In Ear Park

Released on 4AD, 10/7/08

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A lot of things can happen in an NYU dorm room. Grab yourself a couple of fresh-faced teenagers, a vast and ever-expanding metropolis, and a lack of overall guidance coupled with the egotistical invincibility of a young, eager mind. Though, if you happen to be Fred Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen, in lieu of the typical academic and social roommate rivalry and middle of the night oh so alone panic attacks, you begin a musical romance that not only outlasts your college days but also, for your second performance, lands you on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Not too shabby.

Daniel Rossen has spent the better part of the last four years touring and recording with neo psych-folk experimentalists Grizzly Bear and I will not say that this has not strongly influenced Department of Eagle’s latest release In Ear Park. The album is laden with signature Grizzly Bear production, instrumentation and vocal treatment. But this is to be expected considering Rossen asked Grizzly Bear band mates Chris Taylor to produce/engineer the record and drummer Chris Bear to contribute. As opposed to the “folktronic” torch Department of Eagles have carried on past recordings, this release is much more fluid, sincere and, dare I say, organic. It fully displays the musicianship and compositional vigor of a team that has been working together since 2001 without shoving those subtleties and strengths down the listener’s throat.

The album opens with the title track, “In Ear Park”, which features cascading guitar and a whimsical intro that ends up leading into a decently gratifying crescendo before it fades back out and into the first single “No One Does It Like You”. This is where we begin to hear the great divide. Department of Eagles have more of a roots rock foundation than any of their on-going projects. Where Grizzly Bear would dissolve into reverberated experimentation and potential collapse, Rossen and Nicolaus are able to rescue all discord at the very last moment and revert to Beatles-style standards that prove both eerie and catchy at the same time. Theirs is a style that surpasses pop but contains the same desire. The songs, such as “Herring Bone”, all hold a deep melancholy within them that echo with unresolved flats and booming counter-harmonies.

Though songs do tend to run into one another and stylistically it would have been nice to see a bit more of a departure from prior projects and passions, this album is still able to hold its own. In Ear Park is a mature and thoughtful album, at times gleefully dissonant, at times entirely vaudevillian, and wholly layered, lush and lovely.