Daniel Rossen is one quarter of Grizzly Bear, a band I never bonded with because (specifically) I kept hearing comparisons with, and then hearing echoes of, Van Dyke Parks. Even more specifically, 2004‘s Yellow House reminded me of an album I struggled with and was never able to love, Parks’ allegedly legendary Song Cycle. That is to say, their songs, albeit pretty, were excessively ornate and over-arranged, with too much going on melodically and not enough emotionally. I found them fiddly.
Silent Hour / Golden Mile, a five track EP recorded in downtime from Grizzly Bear and Rossen’s sister project Department of Eagles, retains a lushness that one imagines is hardwired into his writing. (No-one who gets Van Dyke Parks comparisons migrates into minimalism.) But there’s a precision in the writing and an intensity in the performances that means even someone as boringly linear as me can be thrilled and moved. In the pantheon of ’70s albums, the one that keeps coming to mind listening to Silent Hour / Golden Mile is Gene Clark’s over-reaching but affecting No Other, its grandiosity tempered by the structure and simplicity Clark brought with him from the Byrds.
In fact, The Byrds are all over this EP (the title track, a light, skipping, jangly thing, could not exist without them) as is their acolyte Elliott Smith, and it’s been remarked before that Rossen might be the inheritor of Smith’s sadly missed way with a waltz (‘Silent Song’). It’s maybe notable that the references here are to decades long gone, a time that someone of my age (not forty but not that far off, reared on real-time REM and all that came with them) might consider timeless, someone else dated. There may not be anything here that could not have existed in 1974, and that could be a problem for some people.
Not for me. ‘Saint Nothing’, the song that made my mind up about this EP, could have ended a Gram Parsons record. A mournful 4/4 piano ballad with a ‘Pyramid Song’ chord change and delicate descending brass, it answered any questions I had about the emotional clout of Rossen’s music. I’ve found myself playing it over and over, stilled and dazed by it, reveling in the serenity to be found by being in the same space as the song. Nothing new here, but I’ll live without innovation if I can have such exaltation as this.