It used to be that demos stayed out of the public eye until bootleggers got their hands on them or labels packaged them in with deluxe reissues of classic albums. Those days are long gone; artists now use sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud as their personal record labels, releasing anything and everything they see fit. This can be exciting for music fans who enjoy the creative process–how the seed of a harmony or melody gets stretched and shaped into a memorable earworm.
Put New York’s Alex Schaaf in the “anything goes” column when it comes to releasing music. Under the name Yellow Ostrich, he’s turned his Bandcamp page into a musical rec room. His releases range from the sublime (the voice-and-drum-loops beauty of Fade Cave EP) to the bizarre (The Morgan Freeman EP draws its influence from, you guessed it, the Morgan Freeman Wikipedia page). His four “official” albums use a lot of the same ingredients–loops, pop hooks, and shifting dynamics–but they often feel buttoned-up and staid compared to his bedroom experiments. They certainly don’t capture his live prowess, where the loops are done on-the-fly and you can see him and his band carefully walking that tightrope between brilliance and train wreck.
Yellow Ostrich’s fifth album, Cosmos, looks to rectify that. Schaaf took inspiration from Carl Sagan’s classic television series–not so much the science as the general philosophy behind it. “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,” says Schaaf. Working with drummer Michael Tapper, bassist Zach Rose, and multi-instrumentalist (and one-time Voxtrot member) Jared Van Fleet, Schaaf decided to bring that mentality down to eye level. Out February 25, Cosmos looks to synthesize the band’s experimental tendencies with a hefty dose of sheer beauty. The combination is immediately felt on “Shades,” where backward drums and acidic guitar swim alongside stacked harmonies and reach-for-the-rafters choruses. The result is something that feels lived-in and accidental–a perfect moment captured before it quickly fades away.