Before starting on songwriting for Yellow Ostrich's latest album, singer/guitarist Alex Schaaf moved into the band's Brooklyn practice space and immersed himself in the study of such astronomers as Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. Keeping up his day job of digitizing people's old home films by day, Schaaf devoted the next 9 months to exploring the depths of the galaxy from a tiny windowless room, whose lighting he altered to reflect the arrival and passing of daylight each morning and night. Around the same time, Yellow Ostrich drummer/percussionist Michael Tapper ventured into the infinite in a much more literal sense by departing on a sailing trip from Mexico to Hawaii that left him out at sea for nearly a month. Borrowing its title from Sagan's 1980 PBS series, Cosmos expands Yellow Ostrich's intensely guitar-driven alt-rock with dreamy electronic arrangements to mirror the mood of Schaaf and Tapper's retreats away from the everyday world. While the album embodies a sense of both wonder and isolation, Yellow Ostrich's refined melodies and dense yet delicate sonic textures make Cosmos as powerfully intimate as it is dynamic.
"Something I really like about the Carl Sagan way of thinking is how it's a very unironic and sincere amazement at how the world works," says Schaaf, who began Yellow Ostrich as a solo project at age 21. "One of the main things I was thinking about in writing this album is how to take that viewpoint and bring it into real-world life," he adds. "It's one thing to be reading all these books and watching all these movies in a very small room, or–as Michael did–to go out and live under the stars for a while. But trying to inject that pure amazement into day-to-day living in a big city is something completely different."
The follow-up to Yellow Ostrich's 2012 EP Ghost, Cosmos captures that uneasy tension by merging raw guitar riffs, lush atmospherics, brain-bending electro effects, sweetly ethereal harmonies, and earnest but unsettling lyrics. Engineered by Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Superchunk, Sparklehorse) and mixed by Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.), the album saw its inception when Schaaf sketched out skeletal versions of his songs, then brought them to Tapper to begin fleshing out beats and arrangements. Having delved into the work of early-Krautrock and 70's synth bands while on tour the previous year, Schaaf and Tapper set to broadening their sound with locked grooves and textures inspired by artists like Neu!, Kluster, and Kraftwerk. For more help in crafting the sonics of Cosmos, Schaaf and Tapper recruited bassist Zach Rose and keyboardist/guitarist Jared van Fleet (who stepped in soon after the departure of multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez). With Rose and van Fleet further shaping the songs and helping the band to realize their vision, the new lineup of Yellow Ostrich recorded most of Cosmos in the same rehearsal space where Schaaf was living.
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