It’s the time of year for saving money!
There is an interesting phenomenon that happens sometimes when a performer who first came up in the ranks of another band decides to release a solo recording. Oftentimes, fans lament the effort because they are so conditioned and attached to the sound of the original band. And indeed, there are many instances where the sum of the parts are often more powerful than the individual releases. Yet, there are as many, if not more, who have marched onward to an unknown future which proves rewarding and powerful.
The first time I became fully aware of this was when I was a little kid of about eight years old and the word was out that The Beatles were splitting up. As they were pretty much the anchor for my entire musical world at that point — and yes, I’ve been a fan since they had started; one of the three earliest things I can remember in life was watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show with my older brothers who were very, very excited. I was pretty much devastated for a quite some time when they ended their run. Learning that my heroes from Liverpool were breaking up was my first big life bummer (and most of my friends in the neighborhood) — of course, I soon learned there were much bigger problems in life to be upset about.
Soon enough, magical musical things started happening: all four Beatles began putting out solo albums and singles and suddenly the radio was filled with four times as much Beatle music as before with hits from Ringo, George, John and Paul. Suddenly the sky wasn’t falling quite so rapidly…
By the time the mid 1970s rolled around and I was getting into other types of music I was ready for the solo efforts that might arise. One of the first and best to come out of the progressive rock movement was Olias Of Sunhillow by Jon Anderson of Yes. A beautiful record where he plays most every instrument, it is more or less a Yes album in all but name — it doesn’t have the wild drumming and fiery solos — but the melodies and overall vibe feels very much a part of the Yes oeuvre.
I could ramble on with many other examples…
Fast forward to present times and one such solo album I’m enjoying a lot these days is by Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear. A fine group with a distinctive sound that bridges the deep canyons between acoustic folk and progressive rock musics, Grizzly Bear has issued a handful of mostly well-sculpted and well-received albums which strike a healthy balance between creative freedom and commercial considerations. Their breakout album Veckatimest, features a Top 10 hit song — “Two Weeks” — which is arguably the best tune to employ the dreaded “millenial whoop” in a way that somehow works.
Its a good hook for a fine pop song!
Rossen’s first solo album issued recently — You Belong There — is less hooky than that hit and more akin to the moodier sides of Grizzly Bear. It is also less immediately hooky than Jon Anderson’s Olias, but that does not mean it is bad. No, playing more like a lost song cycle as if mid-70s Robert Wyatt teamed up with Paris 1919-era John Cale and early Van Dyke Parks, the acoustic guitars take the center stage on You Belong There.
Yet there are wild piano moments with orchestral percussion; “Tangle” feels like an orphaned love child from Wyatt’s Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (and perhaps some of his work with his group Matching Mole). Other songs recall in a breath Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Gentle Giant’s Octopus, early Duncan Brown and Nick Drake recordings. There are layers of guitars and as you’ll see from this video (below) for “Shadow In The Frame,” Rossen’s finger-picking technique on 6- and 12-string guitars is impressive.
You Belong There is a grower and I mean that in the best possible way. There are no immediate earworms as such, yet there are signature flourishes and haunting harmonies which keep pulling me back into it. A treated piano here…. a Mellotron sound there… quirky time changes… cellos and rich round horns …. vocals and melodies weave a complex tale.
I think you get the idea where I’m going with this…
Overall the vinyl version of You Belong There sounds quite wonderful. The acoustic guitars are front and center, rich and round complementing Rossen’s haunting vocals and overdubbed harmonies. The periodic live drums have a nice acoustic feel to the, sounding akin to a vintage jazz album from the late 1950s or early ‘60s. This was probably a digital recording so it sounds modern, but not in an off-putting manner. I have the limited edition gold colored vinyl edition which is well centered and happily pretty quiet.
You can also find You Belong There on streaming in fine sounding Hi Res 96 kHz, 24-bit on Qobuz (click here), in CD quality on Tidal (click here). It is also streaming via lossless Apple Music (click here).
This is a fine album which demands that you listen intently. Any music that can deliver that sort of command — making me want to stop and just bask in the sound — is a good thing. Open your ears for 45 minutes and you may find that, indeed, You Belong There.