Easy access to samplers and digital recording software has rendered the possibilities for do-it-yourself musicians essentially limitless, with any average home-recorded artist able to create layers upon layers of sound without the burden of scheduling expensive studio time or recruiting an army of musicians. Yet not every musician chooses to make home laptop symphonies, and Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf is one such musician to whom less is more than adequate. On new album The Mistress, Schaaf manipulates instrumental and vocal loops to curious and interesting ends, though he rarely indulges in dense or heavily multitracked arrangements, opting instead for a charmingly unfinished sound.
The Mistress is a fairly simple album, and one for which elaborate studio tricks play almost no role. And yet, there’s something alluring and endearing about its sparse constructions. One of the album’s most impressive tracks, “I Think U Are Great,” is also one of its least fussed-over, comprising 80 seconds of electric guitar and Schaaf’s beautifully layered vocal harmonies. It ends too soon, of course, but for those 80 seconds, Schaaf taps into a hypnotic and captivating quality that extra instrumentation might jeopardize. From there, the album only grows marginally bigger and denser, with tracks like “WHALE” sounding remarkably stark despite the layers of voices, guitar and drums. And even “Hate Me Soon,” with its big, fuzzy major chord progression, leaves plenty of open space where piano only occasionally drops in. And yet, once it does, the track reaches a mighty climax that may very well be ruined by the presence of other instruments.
Alex Schaaf likely could have spent more time cramming The Mistress full of effects and instrumental flourishes, but he, instead, opted to leave it a raw, naked recording. At times, it’s a little too bare, with a few moments sounding more like demos than finished tracks. But when it works, Yellow Ostrich displays a strangely economic magic that shows sometimes music is best left its fair share of breathing room.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.