Department of Eagles - Archive 2003-2006 Album Review07 Jul 2010
Daniel Rossen may be better known these days as one quarter of Brooklyn experimental folk rock outfit Grizzly Bear, but ten years ago he was already sketching out his future plans as a songwriter and musician in Department Of Eagles. The duo, Rossen and fellow New York University student Fred Nicolaus, formed initially as a leisure time project that eventually spawned two long players, 'The Cold Nose' in 2005 and 'In Ear Park' three years later. While it would be unfair - particularly on Nicolaus - to judge either as prototype practice runs for 'Veckatimest', the 2008 opus undoubtedly responsible for Grizzly Bear's current status as critics' pets, there's no mistaking some of the arrangements came from the same melting pot of ideas, especially when one considers fellow Grizzly Chris Taylor contributed both production and engineering duties.
Nevertheless, Department Of Eagles remain a pretty nifty collaboration in their own rights, and even if Rossen's work here has been usurped by the output of his other, more renowned colleagues, those two records ultimately stand the test of time, if only for the fact that all things considered, it could be argued they were actually years ahead of their time.
'Archive 2003-2006' isn't a new Department Of Eagles album as such, instead compiling an assortment of oddments and rarities that date back to both practice room sessions of their embryonic days up to more recent outtakes and b-sides somehow lost amidst the ether of bands forming around them. Of the eleven pieces here, five are indeed untitled other than the labels 'Practice Sketch 1' to 'Practice Room Sketch 5', while musically ranging from the sound of a door opening and closing ('.1') to '.2''s jammy interlude, Rossen's inquisitive "When is it gonna get easier?" riposte cutting through the song's effortless freeform. Both the third and final sketches could either be borrowed or lend themselves to film scores, while the maudlin piano led '.4', subtitled 'Tired Hands' has a distinctly Leonard Cohen air of grace and despair about it.
Its on the Radiohead inspired 'Deadly Disclosure' and orchestral pop of 'Flip' though where Department Of Eagles really come into their own, not to mention drawing comparisons with the likes of Shearwater, Arcade Fire and yes, Grizzly Bear in the process. However, when Rossen's subtle but threatening "just remember when I cut you down" dishevels 'Brightest Minds' elegiac folk into a chilling mantra, or locality dissing country-style ballad 'Golden Apple' causes neck hairs and shoulder blades to stand to attention, its clear that both Rossen and Nicolaus brewed up an instinctively creative formula between them, long before the former's next move.
Although 'Archive 2003-2006' is in no way the definitive Department Of Eagles record, it's a fascinating insight into the earliest musings of one of independent rock's most sought after musicians in the present day, and therefore serves as a timely reminder to a most underrated pair of mavericks.