Review Summary: Enjoyable bedroom-folk which hints at better things to come from its creator.
I’m not stupid. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’ve seen the rating, the genre of the record, and you’re ready to hit the homepage again, ready to make the band name a fast-fading smudge in your memory. Mellow Cottage? If you haven’t done so already, what about if I told you the artist, Alex Schaaf, was giving away his bedroom-folk debut as a free download? Too good to be true, right? You still don’t care. Yeah, I’d be the same. The general consensus seems to be: if something is truly good, everyone on the internet will rave about it and give it to me for free. And this is why I usually give these young guns the benefit of the doubt and up their rating slightly. Give them a break. But I haven’t done so here. Yellow Ostrich is a good indie folk album, nothing more. Songs seem to generally follow the pattern of Schaaf vocally maypoling around one hook with general indie-folk quirk. It’s never showy, taking gentle and simple guitar passages and marrying them with assorted dream-like noises and Schaaf’s hard-to-place yet clearly influenced voice. But this seems to be more the fact that Yellow Ostrich just doesn’t have a lot to show rather than a mastery of simplicity and musical minimalism.
But still. Check it out anyway. Because the album is good
. Because it’s mellow and catchy, like any good indie-folk. And because I think there could be better things to come from this guy. There’s a touch more than just potential and charm on show here. This ‘more’ is hard to explain. Opener ‘Fog’ describes what I can’t. Beneath the swathes of dreamy vocal drones, simple guitar and Schaaf’s familiar, youthfully heart-hidden-under-sleeve vocals, something magical pokes its cloaked head through. Its veil makes it hard to identify, but it’s more than simple potential. It excites far too much for that. This same quiet beast tumbles into second track, ‘Be Back Soon’, which immediately evokes thoughts of Jeff Magnum, despite not really sounding anything Neutral Milk Hotel. The heartstring pinches of Schaaf’s voice are clamped in place with such lyrics as ‘love me gently but don’t ever take your hand off of the knife’. And I know you’re thinking that’s lame, but it’s delivered with a strange effortless conviction that does more than just hint at greatness. These two tracks are really quite excellent, and while the rest of the album doesn’t come close, there are moments that suggest Alex Schaaf could be a big name. If he can nurture his style - a style which blurs the line between familiar and unique with wistful nostalgia (the good kind), a style which feeds off the bare, exposed beauty of vulnerability and picks at your emotions whether you feel like it should or not – then he may not have to rely on giving his albums away for free just to gain attention much longer.
Come the end of the year, near no one will remember Yellow Ostrich. That’s just the facts. Even I will probably forget to even consider it when the best-of-09 lists are due. But even the cynic in me can’t shake the feeling that this won’t be the last I’ll hear of Alex Schaaf. So why not check this out? If you’ve read this far you should at least reward yourself with a free album. The guy could be big. Maybe. Just a heads up.