The propensity for a band’s members to dabble in their own individual side projects seems directly proportional to the critical and popular acclaim of the group itself. Take Grizzly Bear, for example: As the Brooklyn indie rockers’ clout has swelled, so too have its members been inevitably drawn to separate ventures, including vocalist Daniel Rossen’s much-admired partnership with Fred Nicolaus as Department of Eagles, and more recently bassist Chris Taylor’s successful electro-rock collab with Twin Shadow as CANT.
Four years removed from the ascendancy of Veckatimest, Rossen has also struck out on his own, releasing a quiet, somewhat under-hyped EP sprouted from a collection of unfinished Grizzly Bear material. As such, listeners will hear obvious parallels between Rossen’s solo debut and the work of his psych-folk parnerships, with one unfortunate caveat: Without the touch of Rossen’s collaborators, Silent Hour/Golden Mile takes on a predictably plain flavor. The five-song EP is at times beautiful and pensive, but more often sounds unfinished, lacking the kind of baroque mystique that so endears the music of either Department of Eagles and Grizzly Bear.
In fact, the only thing that really counterbalances the forgettably vanilla tone is Rossen’s vocals. The Los Angeles native’s golden voice is at times otherwordly, conveying an unmparalleled fullness and warmth even in its most ruminative moments. Which is fortunate, as ruminations are plenty on Silent Hour/Golden Mile. Purportedly recorded in various hole-in-the-wall studios and other closet-sized spaces, the EP’s raw offerings are somewhat listless, gliding along in self-obsessed bubbles. Rossen’s vocals thus constantly outweigh their musical accompaniments in both purpose and passion, meaning that listeners, while waiting for the next vocal part to kick in, will be forced to endure tedious lulls that often sound like the musical equivalent of treading water.
Incongruous and flat, Silent Hour/Golden Mile plays like the antithesis of the work that’s cemented Rossen and his bandmates as the foremost purveyors of intricate, harmonious folk rock. Veckatimest possessed dozens of quiet but wonderful moments where both human and nonhuman elements worked in pitch-perfect cooperation to deliver an emotional payoff—the heartbreaking dismay that’s achieved with the soft overlay of flutes, strings, and vocal harmonies in “Cheerleader,” for example. Compare that to “Golden Mile,” where, though Rossen sings that “there is madness all around,” the only real sentiment the song conveys is complete disinterest via some apathetic harmonies and limp acoustic guitar. In the end, no matter how sublime Rossen’s voice may be, Silent Hour/Golden Mile simply can’t transcend the limitations of its origin as a collection of incomplete Grizzly Bear B-sides.