When Brooklyn’s Alex Schaaf first got his project—the indie-rock-to-the-core Yellow Ostrich—up and running, he was all by himself, crafting songs about Morgan Freeman’s Wikipedia page and posting his work on Bandcamp.
Once his sophomore self-released album The Mistress received a boost by Schaaf’s signing to Barsuk Records, his one-man, loop-pedal-dependent band took on some new members and touring began. Schaaf’s work went from slightly aloof with a touch of whimsy to robust and immensely emotional.
Since then, Yellow Ostrich has released two more albums and an EP, the most recent of which is this year’s Cosmos; an album themed front to back with the writings of Carl Sagan.
Oh, and it appears this time, his trusty loop pedal is taking a backseat to more fluid than stoic musical composition.
Just as the record’s title suggests, the lyrics capture the wonder of space by either discussing it specifically or converting it into a filter for terrestrial living. But it’s not just the lyrics that accomplish that. Everything about the album suggests the vastness of the universe including the cold and thundering electric guitar and industrial hammering drums.
“Something I really like about the Carl Sagan way of thinking is how it’s a very un-ironic and sincere amazement at how the world works,” said Schaaf, about his inspiration for the new album. “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.”
The resulting album is one that with the song “In the Dark,” exacerbates the distance between loved ones by imagining it as if there were light years separating the two and also communicates the space-cold fear of a relationship with the song “Terrors.”
The third track “Neon Fists” takes on the uncertainty of embarking on a challenging endeavor, much like early spaceflight, with slowly building licks akin to a launch countdown before transitioning into “Shades,” a track filled with the subsequent rumble of takeoff.
Cosmos is easily a standout offering from Yellow Ostrich’s normal non-themed work pairing the almost angry, darkness of their last album Strange Land with the adventurous nature of 2010’s The Mistress. Ultimately, it does a wonderful job of mirroring space; a medium that seems empty and simple but is really filled with layers of matter and complexity.