Alex Schaaf, in such a short period, went from posting tracks on Bandcamp in 2009 to providing the soundtrack around a wedding proposal at Lollapalooza this summer. The Wisconsinite, who jokingly calls on Spotted Cow in his contracts when playing University of Wisconsin-Madison (who’d blame him, eh?), made his way out a couple years back to Brooklyn as many musicians soon find magnetized towards. While some may end up in the bar or coffeehouse circuit, either as a barista or not, Schaaf has managed to make it through the giant sieve; a telling feat given he began solo with solitary guitar and looping.
Earlier this year saw Strange Land follow up 2010’s The Mistress, a remarkably poppier effort with gorgeous recording that maintained those early recording qualities to his vocals that are very much a signature piece. Yellow Ostrich also saw him being joined by Jon Natchez and Michael Tapper, expanding the sound and adding company to the trips between concerts. Jon alone adds his experience as the hired gun multi-instrumentalist for Beirut, Okkervil River and Herman Dune, among others. So now that they’ve settled into the new touring configuration, Alex gives us six brand new songs just as they hit the road as Ghost.
Ghost is all those less poppy aspects that you may have first gotten acquainted with that were set aside on Strange Land. Set apart, it fits the changing tempos of the seasons. “Don’t remember your face. I remember the way you moved. The taste of you, and your eyes. Green or are they blue?…And I’m so tired of you.” The title track is markedly distant from Strange Land both in lyrics and in tone. The protagonist lacks the confidence created by the “new place and feeling different” of The Mistress, feeling unsure and out of place. The organ adds to the uncertainty, coupled by a languished guitar-far from “Marathon Runner” or “I Want Yr Love.” Though “Here Today” immediately shifts the EP back onto the rails through a layer of guitar, shaker and piano. A slow build that, alongside “Chills,” roots the EP. It’s a lovely track, the most pop-orientated with a drifting crescendo that drops into chorused ethereal vocals.
“USA” is a juxtaposed love song to being on the road. While the landscape may be beautiful, the geographic distance separates couples; a downright ugly lonely situation. Much of the track is barren, despite the colors of mountains and fields repeated within. EP closer, “Already Gone,” continues this morose tone. It seems locked in misery, letting the pangs of guitar strings echo on the introspection. “Will you wait to eat ’til I’m hungry?”
Ghost lies in between, though not in the b-side sense or castaways of cut tracks. The six new songs are wanderers, but are collected together enough in their emotional oscillation. Coupled with the moments of pop guitar twangs, and clever layering, it’s actually a refreshing supplement that complements the slower, more introspective moments early in Yellow Ostrich’s recordings. If you’re new to Alex and start with this, do yourself a favor and let this sink in because Strange Land will feel all the more liberating.