The duo’s debut album, variously known as The Whitey On The Moon LP and The Cold Nose, was a curious beast that melded folk, indie and electronica in a deliberately slapdash fashion. All good fun, but hardly essential listening.
The influence of Grizzly Bear is readily apparent this time around, not surprising considering Rossen’s bandmates Chris Taylor and Chris Bear were on hand to help out with the recording of In Ear Park. The focus here is firmly on songwriting and not the aural pastiches of the duo’s earlier work.
Dedicated to Rossen’s late father and informed by childhood memories, In Ear Park is a dreamy maze of a record that reveals its intricate layers over repeated listens. Not surprisingly, it has been compared to the experimental albums released by Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Although there are occasional splashes of electronic noise, this is essentially a chamber pop album that makes full use of its wide range of instrumentation.
The title track opens the album with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, before the mood takes on a more melancholy note as the other instruments are gradually added to the mix. Rossen’s hushed, multi-tracked vocal adds a further layer of ethereal beauty to the song, which references the Los Angeles park he used to visit with his father.
The mood lightens on the album’s most accessible song, No One Does It Like You, although the jaunty indie pop melody is tempered by the downbeat nature of the lyrics (“I curse these legs I walked on”).
As the album progresses it is the little details that you begin to notice. The stately piano on Herring Bone, the handclaps on Teenagers, and the unexpected way Classical Records builds to its climax. This is a record to listen to on headphones, letting its intricate detail seep into your pores and the subtle melodies wind their way into your brain.
In Ear Park is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Rossen’s vocals are too one-dimensional to carry an album (remember, he is only a part-time singer with Grizzly Bear). The record also begins to lose steam in its second half for the simple reason that the songs just aren’t as good.
Despite these caveats, In Ear Park should be justly celebrated as one of the better independent releases to emerge in what has been a fairly barren year. It also makes the wait for a new Grizzly Bear album less painful.