Spring has finally come into full swing. From out my window, I can see the magnolias and apple trees bloom in comforting hues of white and pink. The air is soft and fragrant, alive with the buzzing of bumblebees. In short, the outside world is beautiful again – and I feel like crap. Not to go into too much detail, but after a string of bad luck and even worse news, I kinda needed a pick-me-up, so I looked to Yellow Ostrich and their new album, promisingly titled Soft, in hopes of finding some solace.
But did I find it, though? Well, the signs were good; after all, Alex Schaaf (the man behind Yellow Ostrich) and his small cast of collaborators have cranked out five records’ worth of warm, somewhat lo-fi/gazey indie tunes before disbanding in late 2014. Therefore, expecting at least a modicum of comfort didn’t seem too far-fetched, even when faced with the anxiety that naturally comes with a project returning after a lengthy hiatus.
It should come as a relief, then, to know that even after almost seven years away, Schaaf has not forgotten how to deliver a memorable tune or two. Soft is a wonderfully, well, soft record, and I’m going to tell you a bit more about why that is.
Production-wise, the album is warm and pillowy; everything sounds well-rounded and pleasant. See lead single “Julia” for example – deep, enveloping bass lines sit between crisp drums and swooning guitars. It’s an incredibly well-written song to boot, making sure its hooks and tones won’t leave your head for the foreseeable future. ‘I can’t see eye to eye’, sings Schaaf in the song’s remarkable chorus, and I can’t help but chuckle at the irony a bit, because the production choices made for Soft are very easy to see eye to eye with.
‘Milkweed grows / Out my side / ‘Cause I’ve got love / Too much love to hide‘
As much as I’d like to give you a detailed tour of all the standout moments Soft has to offer, I feel like once you’ve grasped its core aesthetic, you basically know what you’re in for. So allow me to skip past a couple tracks to talk about the album’s finale. “Los Angeles” is a dreamy slow jam, taking the tempo down another few notches but dialing the vibes up to eleven. And when Jon Natchez’s saxophone hits… *chef’s kiss*. What a song. “Too Much Love” continues in the same vein, but instead of a sax, it introduces some gorgeous vocal harmonies in its last moments to give us a satisfying send-off. By the time the song’s last chords rang out, I was actually starting to feel a little better about the state of things.
Now, none of the above is meant to imply that Soft offered me some sort of revelatory experience in a semi-dark time; it was more of a warm hand between your trembling shoulder blades, ‘you go get ‘em next time, sport’ type of situation. Comforting, yes, very much so, but nothing to singlehandedly pull you from the wretched abyss of your own mind. Which, come to think of it, shouldn’t be the job of any one music album in the first place. Yellow Ostrich’s latest set of musical pleasantries is a gorgeous addition to this year’s comfort music playlists – nothing more, but most certainly nothing less.