Yellow Ostrich mastermind Alex Schaaf has said that the title of his new album refers to his move in 2010 from Wisconsin to New York City. Yet after making last year’s The Mistress under humble bedroom-recording conditions, Schaaf upgraded to a professional studio for Strange Land, and it’s that unknown habitat he seems most intent on exploring here. Opener “Elephant King” shows his hand straightaway, riding in on a sparkling guitar figure that slowly accumulates all kinds of indie-pop filigree: harmonized singing, sustained horn tones, and an escalating parade-drum beat by Michael Tapper, whose consistently inventive percussion work comes to distinguish Strange Land in a way that recalls Steven Drozd’s avant-Bonzo beats on The Soft Bulletin. Elsewhere, Schaaf builds intricate loops from tiny vocal slivers (“Marathon Runner”) and chops up Tapper’s playing into a kind of nimble white-guy funk (“I Want Yr Love”). None of this high-end studio tricknology distracts the frontman from making memorable melodies, as the elemental fuzz-rock gem “Stay at Home” demonstrates; “Daughter,” too, should satisfy Built to Spill fans impatiently waiting for that band’s new one. But it’s definitely a kick to hear him let Yellow Ostrich run wild.
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