Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “Whale” by Yellow Ostrich from the 2010 album The Mistress, released on Afternoon Records.
Yellow Ostrich began as the solo project of Alex Schaaf, who conceived the band in Wisconsin where he released a number of digital downloads and EPs before moving to New York this year to release the full-length album The Mistress. The album is available as a pay-what-you-want download on the band website, and Afternoon Records will be releasing the album digitally on January 11 and on limited-edition yellow vinyl in February.
Yellow Ostrich, now a duo with Michael Tapper on drums, play indie pop full of pristine melodies, richly layered instrumentation, and Schaaf’s harmonizing vocals. Though The Mistress coheres beautifully as a whole, every song seems to stand out on its own, conjuring a variety of different musical association. These associations are hard to place, however, as Yellow Ostrich’s music is distinctly unique more than anything, almost strikingly so.
Today’s featured song begins with a heavy, ominous drum beat before Schaaf comes in with some increasingly layered sets of “ohs” before beginning a pointed one-sided dialogue with his “whale.” Though Schaaf is somewhat confident about his prospects (“you will take me / onto your back”), the foreboding drums hang over his intentions like a black cloud. About halfway in, however, the drums cut out and Schaaf’s vocals take full control of the song as he assures his whale not to worry and to “do as you please” -- all he asks is to “open your heart.” This is followed by the return of the drum beat, this time accompanied by some additional instrumentation, giving Schaaf’s vocals a little extra oomph as he brings the song home.
For now, Yellow Ostrich seems to only be playing shows around New York, but hopefully Schaaf will leave the confines of Brooklyn once The Mistress starts to gain steam. You can listen to their very recent performance live on KEXP while John Richards broadcast from the Cutting Room Studios NYC last week. Also, check out the video for “Whale,” which is possibly the simplest music video of all time: