Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Daniel Rossen - Silent Hour / Golden Mile EP

What makes a good solo album?

Daniel Rossen’s masterful Silent Hour / Golden Mile EP comprises five really good tracks, which tie together effortlessly, try on different sonic pallets, and leave you wanting even more great music of the Grizzly Bear persuasion.

I could stop the review there, but since I’ve already charged 10 dollars to all of your credit cards for merely clicking on this link[i], I should probably put some effort into this review.

I’m serious though; this EP is five for five on the great songs front and is worth everyone reading this blog’s time. There are bigger questions affront, though. Such as: how do you succeed in solo efforts if your band, in this case Grizzly Bear, has already faced a reasonable amount of success?

Firstly, you need good songs. “Up On High” starts the record with confidence. It sounds like Grizzly Bear and Rossen’s other band, Department of Eagles, but it isn’t a part of those projects.
Rossen is more singular hear, playing his warm acoustic guitar with tasteful and acoustic string arrangements. “Silent Song” is Rossen’s most exuberant vocal performance on record, so much so I can hear him smirking a bit through his words. “Return To Form” contains a great acoustic fingerpicking line that eventually explodes into an electric orchestra of riffs, acting as the most memorable moment on the EP. “Saint Nothing” is the slow track here, and Rossen plays the piano beautifully, dancing with his rustic vocals that would fit perfectly in a jazz lounge 70 years ago. The soft string and brass instrumentation aids the ambiance as well. “Golden Mile” is catchy and contains the title of the EP, acting as an obvious choice for a single alongside “Silent Song.” The tasteful, cosmopolitan use of lap steel also propels the song forward, never slowing down, even as it hits the thick riff-led breakdown. “Golden Mile” forms into a wonderful pop song. The EP as a whole is never cheesy, over-indulgent, or boring. It finds that sweet spot.

Is that the key? Finding a sweet spot? What does that mean? It is a sports cliché, sex cliché, music cliché, but like all clichés, it holds a semblance of truth if you think about it long enough. What is the sweet spot in this case, in music, especially for Rossen? Well, the sweet spot is sounding like his older stuff (in his bands) but still sounding new. If Daniel Rossen went out and accumulated the members of STOMP[ii] and made an all percussion album featuring him yelping in his best rendition of David Byrne, while also having a bunch of recorded penguin farts buzzing in the background, most of us would think he departed too far from what he’s good at—mixing jazz chords and indie pop music. Like the great pop auteurs of years past, namely John Lennon and George Harrison, who Rossen reminds me of, he finds new ways of expressing his style of music as opposed to completely throwing out penguin farts. Even Radiohead, who are famous for changing their sound time and time again, still have that Radiohead soul that makes a good Radiohead song, regardless if it is krautrock or brit pop[iii].

There is no math for the sweet spot, but you know it when you hear it. It isn’t a recipe for a cake, where if you add too little baking powder the cake is flat. Rather, the sweet spot is like cooking food, instead of baking, like art and not science. In making good chili, there is a range of how much chili powder you should add, depending on the occasion. If your dad is coming, and he always gets the runs when there is too much spice, add less chili powder or else you’re going to have to wear deep sea diver’s equipment to clean the bathroom. If your best friend is coming, and he loves spice and will complain if you don’t add enough, add more chili powder or you’ll hear it all night.

My final verdict on Silent Hour / Golden Mile is that Daniel Rossen added the perfect amount of chili powder to please everyone, and disappoint none.

Strong 8 / Lite 9

[i] This is not true. Don’t sue me or Your Personal Opinion Is Wrong. Please. For God’s sake please.

[ii] Are they even still around?

[iii] Musical genre terms are funny out of context. Picture this: You ask your mom how she is and she replies “Chillwave.” Half of you reading this don’t even know what chillwave is. Hell, I don’t know what chillwave is. It’d be even weirder if your mom said, “Post-dubstep.” 

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