Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

In a different review, I wrote about side-projects and their differentiating similarities. The gist of it was that some work, others don’t and some are just as good as their “bigger” projects. Ultimately, Department of Eagles is not a side-project; as they are a full, great band all on their own. New York University roommates Daniel Rossen (of Grizzly Bear) and Fred Nicolaus have been making music together since 2001. After the minor success of The Cold Nose the band—with a couple of other Grizzly Bears—set out to make their new album. And with In Ear Park, they have easily delivered a spinning array of diverse compositions that recall great giants like Van Dyke Parks and even Paul McCartney.

You don’t have to try hard with this album because it’s easy to get pulled into its superb musicianship. The sparse and gentle beginning of “Phantom Other” is then openly greeted with spectral backing vocals, a loose guitar and rolling drum patterns. Inspired by the passing of Rossen’s father, the accompanying music is utterly magical. Not only does it sound as if you are a part of the music, another member in its wide-open feel but it’s absolutely compelling and captivating. By the end of the song, you are left with Rossen’s chanting, “Look out, we gotta get out now” and it all add up as one of the many, many powerful songs on the album.

This is a huge step forward from the electronica-leaning stylings of The Cold Nose and its somewhat forgettable songs. These songs are totally engrossing and downright impeccable. The stomping atmospherics on “Around the Bay” lend nicely to the menacing melody and Rossen’s equally haunting vocals. And the exceptional aspect of it all is how soothing and calming Rossen’s voice can be, all at the same time. “Floating on the Lehigh” is the culmination of Parks’ influence on this album with music that features swirling vocals and strings, a strumming acoustic guitar and story-telling lyrics.

Everything starts off brilliantly with the title track and its reminiscent melody and tinkling guitars. Foreshadowing much of the music that is to come, it’s highlighted by breathy vocal chants and deep, flowing chords supported by unique instrumentation. And whether it is the charming feel of “No One Does it Like You” or the chilling instrumental, “Therapy Noise,” it all comes together as one thematic, cohesive and central lush arrangement of music.

By the time the closing song, “Balmy Night,” finishes you are left with a soothing feeling. The chugging banjo and flourishing music make up one of the best songs on the album and with something as terrific as In Ear Park that is saying a lot. To be succinct and more importantly, direct, this is a full-fleshed, bona fide, beauty of an album. Through all of the musical intricacies and variances, Rossen and Nicolaus have truly created one of the best albums of the year.