Review Summary: Bedroom folk that's perfectly at home right where it is.
If a few of you recognize the name ‘Yellow Ostrich’ from a review I wrote last year, then you may remember that in that review I was pretty cynical towards bedroom-folk as a whole. It’s not that I dislike musicians that have not much more than a battered guitar, a tape recorder, and a vision of better things to come, or that I dislike the music they create. On the contrary, as in the case of Yellow Ostrich’s self-titled, I’m actually a big fan. My beef was with the internet’s part to play. Sure, the advantages of such an age are hard to overstate, but the consequences are equally lofty. When the ‘best new music’ becomes no longer a desired, physical product but rather a one-click why-not, it’s all too easy to dump the stuff when it doesn’t appeal to you first time around. An artist might find their way to more audiences by the beauty of blogs and internet press, but when the audience isn’t invested it’s difficult to get them to really listen. Of course, this is nothing new. I’m spinning a record that’s long since been covered in cobwebs. I just want to see the little guys like Alex Schaaf get paid their dues for working hard and producing enjoyable albums like Yellow Ostrich
And that’s probably belittling. Undeterred and probably amused by whatever crap I’ve just been spewing, the one-man-band has, “for the past year or so”, been working on The Mistress
, a project he just kept coming back to before and after previous releases. And it’s paid off, because it’s really great. It’s filled to the brim with vocal harmonies, vocals which sound curiously reminiscent of Sufjan but still distinctive enough to halt claims of imitation, and these vocal layers bring lashings of charm to each song they grace. They’re fuzzy and warm, like a hug from the Honey Monster, and, unlike lots of bedroom-folk out there, they’ve remembered to make themselves enjoyable by spinning catchy hooks and rising and falling and delivering pretty words in pretty patterns and just sounding ever so nice.
The vocals, surely the centrepiece of the album, would be nothing though without a bit of backing behind them, and, luckily, that backing compliments the foreground sweetly. ‘WHALE’ simply features a sparse, unpolished banging of drums and drum sticks amongst the heartfelt, super catchy harmonies until a cute guitar melody replaces the drums and then they both come in and it all sounds wonderful and climactic when really it shouldn’t. A similar thing happens in ‘Libraries’. A cappella a-plenty with Schaaf’s clipped hummings opening the song, and it’s a little while before any instrumentation, again simple but fittingly so, enter the fray. The song develops around the line “Libraries burn fast / When they’re in the past” until the line is burned into the memory and everything around it burns too.
Maybe I’ve always been a little critical of the bedroom-folk artist’s ambition. They’re wasting their time if they think they’re going to make it, especially in this internet age yada yada yada. But The Mistress
is so charmingly unambitious, not in the sense that it’s afraid of exploration and risk, but that it’s so wholesomely humble, its aware of its limits, its playing to its strengths and it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. The bedroom is a place we associate with comfort and sanctuary and solitude and sinking into writings and collapsing into pillows with a head full of thoughts that can only be emptied here and nowhere else. And, after spending some time with The Mistress
, that’s the lush, cosy, private feeling I can associate with Yellow Ostrich. It might not last long, but, for the moment at least, it’s pretty much exactly what I’m looking for.
Available as a pay-what-you-want download through the wonders of bandcamp: http://yellowostrich.bandcamp.com/album/the-mistress