Yellow Ostrich teeters on the thin line between self-indulgent and meditative on Strange Land, followup to the 2010 debut The Mistress. Songs drag on, ideas get flogged until they lose their punch. You want to reach out, put a hand on their shoulders, and kindly say, “Enough. Don’t mess up a good thing.”
And then right there accompanying notes for the album, it starts to make sense. They self-produced Strange Land. A ruthless editor wasn’t there trim them up and give the album shape.
It’s a shame, because Strange Land brims with good ideas. The melodies shine like melting ice — that cold prickle that makes the world feel expectant and peeled naked in the spring after a long winter. Singer Alex Schaaf controls his pinched, plaintive voice carefully like a thread on a needle, but occasionally breaks out to attack the lyrics with white-knuckled venom (his declaration “I am a hot-air balloon on a sail boat” on “Marathon Runner” comes off bigger than life and demands attention).
Schaaf started Yellow Ostrich off in Wisconsin as a solo project, then moved to New York and joined with multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez and drummer Michael Tapper. It gives this second album a collaborative edge. Their inventive percussion is a highlight here and works well in tandem with Schaaf’s unconventional, nonlinear songwriting approach. His own voice makes good percussion, too, like the mantra “We can make a deal, I know it.” He intones it over and over until it’s takes on new meanings and then loses them. That’s where the album falls successfully into a meditative, itchy trance — appropriate, since lyrically Schaaf is working out issues here of skin-crawling loneliness and, as the title indicates, feeling strange and out-of-place.
Essential Tracks: “Elephant King”, “Marathon Runner”, and “I Got No Time For You”