Yellow Ostrich mastermind Alex Schaaf has come a long way since writing concept albums about Morgan Freeman. Although there is a certain charm that exists among albums that were recorded in a bedroom with a four-track recorder, it’s difficult to grow and mature as an artist if you remain in that zone. 2011′s studio album The Mistress saw Schaaf team up with Michael Trapper; and 2012′s Strange Land threw multi-instrumentalist Joe Natchez into the mix to create Yellow Ostrich’s first proper album as a full band. Natchez departed before the recording of Cosmos, but two new recruits, Jared Van Fleet and Zach Rose, have stepped in to make Yellow Ostrich a quartet.
This constant growth and change of the lineup represents maturity. While Strange Land was a strong release, it sometimes felt as though each member was throwing all their ingredients into the pot without trying to melt it all together. The indie swing of Stay At Home seems out of place sandwiched between the slow-burning of I Got No Time For You and afro-indie rhythms of I Want Yr Love. Additionally, much of the lyrical content dealt with feelings such as longing and confusion. And although every twenty-something on the planet has felt these things, they also demonstrate an adjustment period that Shcaaf and co. were going through.
Now, confidence and a greater level of comfort can be felt all throughout Cosmos. Terrors kicks off the album with Schaaf crooning over some light feedback before showcasing a heavy, syncopated drum beat punctuating some interesting guitar and bass interplay. From there, the album weaves between In Rainbows-style cuts such as the dreamy Neon Fists and scuzzy rockers such as Shades and “Any Wonder.” Lyrically, Schaaf turns his paranoia and uncertainty into opportunities for answers. “What is still unknown?/We can claim it all, or we can close the doors,” he sings on Any Wonder. And with In the Dark he dreams of discovering places that you can’t find in any books yet.
The greatest distinction between Strange Land and Cosmos comes at the end though. When All Is Dead closed out Strange Land with aggressive doubt. Schaaf wails, “When all is dead and I am/The only one with legs to stand/Will it be right when we’re at the end,” while the band crashes and crumbles through walls of distortion. This time around, Don’t Be Afraid finds the group in a much different state of mind. Schaaf sings, “Don’t be afraid/Don’t be so hard to find/You bring all your friends/When you reach the end/So don’t be afraid,” while sparse drums, light synths and a meandering guitar build to a concise end. There’s a certain level of confidence in both the lyrics and performance here, which provides a perfect wrap-up to a well-crafted album. You can only make it so far referencing an actor’s Wikipedia page. Thankfully, Shaaf and the other Ostriches are shooting for the stars these days.