Daniel Rossen: You Belong There (Warp) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, August 16th, 2022  

Daniel Rossen

You Belong There

Warp

Apr 07, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The problem faced by artists that come to define an era in music, however populist or niche it may be, is that the same era begins to define them too. For Grizzly Bear, that era was the Brooklyn indie boom of the early millennium, one characterized by soft, even timorous vocal harmonies, and lightly-picked folk guitar; a time where their breakthrough 2009 single “Two Weeks” seemed as unavoidable as tightly buttoned shirts and limp cardigans. Far from zeitgeist chasers, the band survived well past the inevitable pop of that particular bubble, honing their cadre of instrumental expertise and adding nuance to their elaborate walls of psychedelic folk, but when 2017’s Painted Ruins saw the four-piece necessarily recording separately by dint of the band’s geographical split, it seemed like the writing might be on the wall. Then in 2020, it suddenly was, with the announcement that one-time sole member and co-lead singer Ed Droste was now training to be a therapist.

As for Daniel Rossen, the warbling crooner to Droste’s glossier falsetto, and the band’s lead guitarist (amongst several other instruments—this is Grizzly Bear, after all), his path has taken a similarly existential turn to his ex-bandmate, albeit one wherein his psychological observations are evinced musically rather than in a therapist’s office. Having long since left New York for the more rugged and isolated deserts of Santa Fe, Rossen has spent the past decade quietly developing a more singular identity. On his debut solo album, You Belong There, a title which itself alludes to feelings of displacement and responsibility, Rossen isn’t only unpicking the shifts his life has undergone as he approaches 40, but also his own path towards truly individual expression.

For anyone expecting a dramatic divergence from Grizzly Bear’s kinetic melancholy, album opener “It’s a Passage” quickly puts those musings to rest. In what acts as an effective reintroduction to Rossen’s stylings, an acoustic guitar solo moves forward in stops and starts, each manipulation of the fret and thumb of a string resonating with the sort of crystal confidence and clarity that consistently separated Grizzly Bear from their peers. There’s no edge-sanding here despite the professionalism, the skittish formation of the opening string picking giving way to cascading strums, before caving in around the triumphant crash of a kick drum, driven inexorably forward by Rossen’s frosty scene-setting and queries into timelessness. This is maximalist divergence at its finest—each new element giving way to the next in turn; each ensuing passage containing the cycling echoes of past movements.

Grizzly Bear mk. II this is not, however. While the results of the splintered songwriting approach taken with Painted Ruins and Rossen’s previous solo work hinted at his predilection for twisting complex melodies into a multi-layered flood for the senses, here his work frequently edges to the cusp of noise rock. On the appropriately titled “Tangle,” Rossen takes on a sultry persona, singing softly from beneath a bed of rapidfire bass strings and an ascendant spiral of minor piano keys, never sacrificing the legibility of a note in spite of the surrounding cacophony. It’s not long, however, before things take a wry turn, with the free jazz bombast giving way to the humble march of a military drum, and a series of softly held piano chords accompanying Rossen’s entreaty that we “Begin to breathe.” That urge to keep the wheel turning is what makes Rossen’s work so compelling.

Where Rossen’s arrangements communicate scale through their precise intricacy, his lyrics find scale by mapping human experiences onto the incomprehensible expanse of the natural world, finding as much resonance in the objective apathy of landscape and texture as the emotions that our personal perspectives imprint on them. The subtly soaring “Shadow in the Frame” frames Rossen’s imaginings about his then-unborn daughter’s future fate against the very movement of the earth, ruminating on the “Great plates that crack and groan/And break apart/The earth shaking miles below.” That contemplation turns to tempered exasperation on “Unpeopled Space,” as Rossen attempts to ground himself against the millennia of hard rock, dirt, and defiant growth around him, losing his own sense of time in the process. In the end, he lands on acceptance: “When there’s nothing there/Whatever was, whatever will/Well it won’t now.”

The stories Daniel Rossen tells over the 10 tracks on You Belong There speak to the time he’s taken to displace himself from the Brooklyn art sphere, and find his own voice outside of it. Rather than a move away from the indelible contributions he made to Grizzly Bear as a central songwriter, here he pulls apart his innate tendencies and impulses, finding yet further beauty in the perpetual change of his lived-in environment. No artist wants to be considered in the shadow of his previous work, but Rossen seems at peace with the continuity of his creative development, forever shuffling his personal chronology between the expansive slats of the world around him. By framing the process of personal evolution as an enriching undertaking in its own right, Rossen has made a work that rewards you further with each repeat listen. (www.danielrossen.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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