Label: American Dust Release date: 20/07/10 Official Site Buy: Amazon It’s been two years, roughly, since Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus (d/b/a as Department of Eagles) released their impressive sophomore effort In Ear Park. Since then, Rossen has focused more on bucolic tunes with Grizzly Bear than his personal, almost claustrophobic DoE compositions, while Nicolaus has remained in his usual under the radar location. Now with a retrospective of the time between their debut LP and the recording of In Ear Park fittingly titled Archive 2003-2006, the duo finally sheds light on the down time. One failed album attempt, one successful B-side, five sketches, half an hour: there’s the album, summed up nicely. While Rossen’s solo piano demos/layering experiments, all called Practice Room Sketches here, show some ties to Grizzly Bear (the first Sketch and opening track is a primordial version of ‘Easier’ from Yellow House) as well as the younger Rossen’s love of layering and subtle adjustments, from delays and panning tricks to simple yet effective chord changes that always scream out his trademark style but never border on being “too typical.” Sure the Chris Taylor produced highlight ‘While We’re Young’ is nine tenths of an In Ear Park song, only missing a few sonic elements, and one of the best songs on the album, but it’s when Nicolaus steps up to the lead vocals for ‘Grand Army Plaza’ that the band seems to find its sound. A gentle wash of reverb on their guitars, effective double tracking of vocals, percussion non plus, and a decidedly folk bend belie the band’s almost musique concrete beginnings and humorous early works like A Johnny Glaze Christmas. In place of heavy beats and heavy amounts of unoriginal material, every second pours on inimitability that solidifies Department of Eagles as a power in the indie folk scene. However, the abundance of sketches is the downfall of the album. Most are under two and a half minutes, often leading nowhere but a chordally arranged choir of Rossens or into some mid-fi guitar rambles. Sure ‘Tired Hands’ is almost a jazz song, and actually seems to have verses written, but it’s such a dull affair that it treads all over meisterwerk ‘Golden Apple,’ a song with more piano than the sketch and far better lyrics than ‘Tired Hands.’ It’s an affair slightly down in its own mouth, utilizing this drag to make the 1950s cadence of the second half seem more like a happy death song than an uplifting closer. That final song and sketch really helps to kill the mood created by ‘Golden Apple,’ relying on skittering snare rolls, simple piano musings, and spare vocals to unsettle rather than lead. It’s frustrating and drags down what should be a fascinating look into what could have been made instead of In Ear Park, a disc that would have rivalledYellow House in terms of Daniel Rossen’s song-writing if ‘While We’re Young’ is any indicator (and as sacrilegious as that sounds, just listen to the song – it’s a propelling piece of beauty). ‘Flip’ folds onto itself with a 5/4 groove that makes the 4/4 verse/chorus section cathartic in its simplicity before utilizing massive percussion to open the song back up to a level not seen until ‘No One Does It Like You’ used The Ronettes to create a similar air. This is impressive – a disc of out-takes that doesn’t feel premature. Each song provides a small clue or memorable moment that, in turn, congeals the career of Department of Eagles into a single entity. If The Cold Nose was one phase ending and another beginning, then this disc is the second phase showing it was simply a different path that was concurrently travelled. Hopefully there are more Taylor produced gems in some hard drives bowels waiting to be released, or at the least the rest of the January sessions waiting for a solid remaster, for Archive 2003-2006 only gives a taste. Stellar work, only slightly yet still sadly marred by an over-abundance of redundant material and mid-tempo wallows. Hopefully this sparks up more creativity in the duo, because now they have two great releases to top. Photobucket