It is still staggering to realize that despite a long tenure within the music industry, Daniel Rossen only just released his first solo album. Having such an established position within the indie scene as one part of Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles — two bands with noticeably distinct voices — it seemed like an obvious move for each member to have pursued these voices further on their own. Rossen in particular exhibits the enigmatic combination of outspoken virtuosic instrumental vision with a seemingly taciturn demeanor. As a member of Grizzly Bear, his intense and meticulous approach to guitar playing and vocal harmony carried so much of the energy the band displayed. However, with the group put on hiatus back in 2020 and their last full-length project released back in 2017, there has been a noticeable void of each member’s presence stretching for nearly half a decade at this point. All this to say that the reintroduction to Rossen in 2022 with You Belong There is a welcome one.
Beyond instrumental mastery and narrative mythos-building, Rossen achieves a paradigm shift. Going as far back as Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, the band and its members had been firmly entrenched in the indie landscape by the media and peers alike. Yellow House and follow-up Veckatimest were hailed as some of the best indie folk and indie pop records, respectively, of the ’00s. At the same time, there was always something slightly too idiosyncratic about their compositions to allow such categorizations to feel entirely consistent. You Belong Here provides the clearest explanation for these idiosyncrasies, and in the process completely recontextualizes all the material Rossen has touched on over the years. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything the day of the album’s release, Rossen relayed a number of inspirations, including Brazilian folk artists like Egberto Gismonti, classical composers like Shostakovich and free form jazz musicians like Pharoah Sanders. Thinking about these genres, it’s not too hard to see their presence in his work. His frantic guitar picking style has ties to the Latin and South American styles. His wandering compositional approach falls in line with the sensibilities of free form jazz. All of this is packaged within a classical understanding of music.
Looking past genre labels one may decide to attach to this record (I would posit baroque as an obvious addition as well), the music of You Belong There functions as its own natural entity. Equal parts pastoral and dramatic, Rossen lets his instrumentation roam and grow within empty spaces like vines. Oftentimes, rhythm becomes an undefined entity, tending toward something that lives amorphously through time. And yet at the same time, Grizzly Bear percussionist Christopher Bear is precise with the drumming he’s asked to do, not only keeping up with Rossen’s intense and fluid guitar work but driving it forward as well.
Even while evoking a natural world, You Belong There also feels architectural, each musical element functioning as a constructive piece that builds a space in which everything is allowed to breathe. The density and complexity of the instrumentation on the album also live on both sides of their respective spectrums, with tracks like “It’s a Passage” blooming into a sort of acoustic, operatic maximalism and “Tangle” collapsing into a stately piano ballad. Regardless of the numerous aesthetics Rossen is taps into, every space created feels bountiful. You Belong There is fixated on the idea of spaces as a form of distance.
The album tracks a certain personal exploration of placement both within Rossen’s past and anticipation for what territories may exist in the future. Rossen moved out of New York City nearly a decade ago to distance himself from the chaos of the life of a city musician. From there, he moved to Santa Fe. On some level, the record acknowledges and cherishes this sense of seclusion. No song exhibits this more directly than “Unpeopled Space,” whose lyrics speak of places defined by our absences, liminal in their existence but active all the same. It also addresses the question of what our presence within these spaces really means. How can we possibly belong to unpeopled spaces?
This sense of wandering in search of belonging is obviously an important feature of You Belong There, but Rossen wants to make clear that this statement has not only a geographical and metaphysical component but also (perhaps most significantly) a temporal one. Time takes on its own dimensional quality within the record and becomes far more traversable than reality would normally dictate. In that same Reddit AMA, Rossen explained that “I try to get into my own little world while writing/recording.” With that in mind, You Belong There transforms from merely a claim that we belong in the places where we are not to reassurance that the far-out places in time that may or may not be imaginable are available as refuges, even now.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.