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March 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM

For Barsuk’s Yellow Ostrich, space is the place | Concert preview

Yellow Ostrich

The Brooklyn group Yellow Ostrich, pictured, plays a sold-out show at Barboza Saturday. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

An unexpected pleasure of Barsuk Records’ 15th-anniversary concert series last November was catching glimpses of some of the newer stars in the Seattle label’s galaxy.

Initially a Northwest-only concern, Barsuk has expanded its scope in recent years, picking up some opposite-coast talent. Brooklynites Yellow Ostrich’s set of percussive pop was among the fest’s best; they’ll return Saturday for an encore at Barboza. The show is sold out.

“Cosmos,” the foursome’s third LP since 2009, takes cues from progressive rock, world music, even a capella — but its main inspiration isn’t musical.

“I was watching the Carl Sagan show a lot,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Alex Schaaf explains, “and getting into weird astronomy books. I wrote the words and melodies while living in the tiny practice space we later recorded in.”

Defying its claustrophobic origins, “Cosmos” is expansive — both in tone, and sentiment.

The album’s moodier pieces wear their influences well — mid-period Radiohead on “Neon Fists,” latter-day Death Cab for Cutie on “You Are The Stars” — yet it’s the more groove-oriented material where Schaaf’s own voice begins to emerge.

Lead single “Shades” (listen) is a monument to loop-based composition, winding syncopated rhythms and kaleidoscopic harmonies around a fuzzed-out riff on repeat.

Penultimate track “Things are Fallin” begins on a comparatively subdued note, but steadily builds towards swells of droning distortion and mysterious radio snippets.

Schaaf credits Portland producer Beau Sorensen (Bob Mould, Sparklehorse, Superchunk) for helping that song — at five minutes, the record’s longest — come together.

“We like rocking out — don’t get me wrong — but we don’t want to be a jam band, noodling around on the guitar. We needed to find something to give the song purpose. Beau suggested we try the radio. I had this $10 alarm clock that we put an expensive microphone up against. We literally just moved through the AM dial, looking for interesting things… and it worked out.”

Lyrically, “Cosmos” — like Sagan’s writings — conveys wonderment for the inner workings of the universe, full of impressionistic references to the moon, sky and solar system.

There’s still room for growth. Schaaf’s starry-eyed musings come off slightly saccharine at times, leaning heavily on the easy rhyme — but at 26, he remains young, and is willing to keep learning.

“I don’t live in the practice space anymore — thank God — but keeping day jobs while devoting enough time to the band is still kind of tricky. Playing the long game is the approach that inspires me, though. I like the idea of a band that isn’t a flash-in-the-pan, that builds up its audience slowly, stays around and does different things.”

Yellow Ostrich, Pattern is Movement, Thumpers
7 p.m. Saturday at Barboza, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; sold out (206-709-9467 or

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: Barsuk, Brooklyn, indie


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