Milwaukee has always been a great destination for out-of-town bands. We have an ever-growing number of venues willing to take a flyer on bands from all over the country and the world, offering Milwaukeeans the unique opportunity to check out some truly amazing bands we might not otherwise get to see. In this installment of a new Music Notes feature, we take a look at Yellow Ostrich — a quickly ascending pet project of a Wisconsin native-turned-noted Brooklyn indie rocker Alex Schaaf — before the band comes to town for its last show before heading to SXSW.
Check Them Out
At Cactus Club, topping an impressive Sunday night bill, which also features Pittsburgh-based buzz band 1, 2, 3 and Adam Helwin.
What’s The Big Deal?
At a time in which there are more bands than ever before, with each jockeying for a spot on playlists of exceedingly impatient and disloyal listeners, Yellow Ostrich has continued its climb to widespread relevance by staying ahead of the curve. Whether that’s accomplished through exclusively vocal and drum machine releases like Fade Cave EP, with a soundtrack to an actor’s Wikipedia page (The Morgan Freeman EP) or with any of Yellow Ostrich’s other innovative and ultra-catchy exercises of experimental indie rock, Schaaf’s bedroom recording project-turned-real life band has picked up steam with each of its varied attempts of artistic expression.
Since relocating to Brooklyn’s burgeoning indie scene, Schaaf (a native of small Wisconsin border town Prairie du Chien) has seen his popularity grow immensely. Still, Yellow Ostrich is a fairly well kept secret in most music circles. But, extensive touring, a promising brand new album just released, and a lucrative spot on the South by Southwest music festival (SXSW) in Austin, Tex. seems to suggest the band is teetering on the edge widened notoriety. Locally, Yellow Ostrich took a Cactus Club crowd by surprise with a great showing in its last time through town last November.
How’s The Latest Album?
Released on Barsuk Records Tuesday, Strange Land — like The Mistress — takes a more focused and straightforward approach when compared to Schaaf’s meandering solo home recordings at Yellow Ostrich’s outset. The 10-song effort is enriched with backing instrumentation of Bishop Allen drummer Michael Tapper and ex-Beirut multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez, who coated the record in brass, supplying 11 different horns to the recipe. Schaaf is only improving as a songwriter, but traces of Yellow Ostrich’s bedroom project origins remain, expressed in the bandleader’s stacked vocal loops and rich harmonies.
“The Mistress was a guy in a bedroom,” Schaaf is quoted on the band’s bio. “Strange Land is a band. In a slightly bigger room.”
What People Are Saying
“Add banjo, violin and organ and Yellow Ostrich would garner more comparisons to 50 states-period Sufjan Stevens, but The Mistress comes off as surprisingly bare. Written and recorded mostly in Schaaf's Lawrence University (in Appleton, Wis.) apartment early last year, The Mistress takes a basic approach to instrumentation—guitar, bass, drums and some keys. It allows for Schaaf's voice to take center stage and the loops act as hooks. The ‘do do’s and ‘da da’s are impossible to get out of your head.” – Kevin Mueller, Shepherd Express
“With a title like The Mistress, the debut LP by erstwhile one-man band Yellow Ostrich suggests that the musician at its core, Wisconsin native Alex Schaaf, feels no fidelity for any one musical style or influence.” – Erik Adams, A.V. Club (National)
Over at the band’s Bandcamp page, seven Yellow Ostrich releases (not including The Mistress or Strange Land), 43 songs in all, can be streamed and downloaded for a price of your own choosing—including free. The Mistress can be streamed here and Strange Land can be heard in its entirety here.
Yellow Ostrich photo from www.facebook.com/YellowOstrich