Try as I might, this review of the Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park can’t help but also be a review Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimist. An overlap in membership also results in an overlap in sound, and most of what I think about the Department of Eagles is based on what I think about Grizzly Bear.
In particular, Veckatimist was one of the most overrated albums of 2009.
The Department of Eagles consists of singer Daniel Rossen and guitarist Fred Nicolaus. They were a unit before Rossen joined Grizzly Bear and eventually took Nicolaus with him. After Grizzly Bear released Yellow House, Rossen and Nicolaus resumed as the Department of Eagles and recorded In Ear Park.
Rossen’s distinctive voice has since become emblematic of Grizzly Bear, and the eclectic sound of his adopted band spills over into In Ear Park. More than that, actually — this album is what Yellow House should have been. (Yellow House is another album that seems to get better reviews than it should.)
The songwriting on In Ear Park is far catchier than anything on its comparable Grizzly Bear albums. The atmospheric mid-fi psych-folk gets better treatment on "Classical Records", "Herringbone" and "Teenagers". All that’s missing is Ed Droste himself showing up to sing a few tracks.
In Ear Park withstands, and perhaps improves with, each repeated listen. The same can’t be said of Veckatimist. If anything, nothing on Veckatimist ever takes hold. Just about every time I played Veckatimist, I thought I would rather hear In Ear Park instead.
And that’s a pity because Droste isn’t a bad writer, and he’s not a bad singer either. But "Ready, Able" revels so much in its transparency that it really doesn’t feel substantive. "Southern Point" builds to a dramatic point, but it gets there with an awkward momentum.
And "Two Weeks"? I kept wanting to say, "There’s an app for that" during the opening piano lick.
The simple fact is Grizzly Bear is over-produced. Horn of Plenty, Droste’s first Grizzly Bear recording before he spun it out as a full-fledged band, demonstrates how little can go into his songs and still have a far-reaching impact.
That Rossen and Nicolaus could commandeer the over-produced Grizzly Bear sound and make it serviceable shows Droste needs to recalibrate his band. In Ear Park is better at being Grizzly Bear than Grizzly Bear, while Veckatimist could have sounded better by not being Grizzly Bear at all.