Department of Eagles’s In Ear Park triangulates lo-fi folk and lushly atmospheric samples, creating a seemingly self-defeating musical paradox: unassuming, anthemic indie rock. The band’s creative core, Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus, crafts the record into something that resembles the crescendo-laden outbursts of Arcade Fire, but unburdened with the melodrama that hobbles the Canuck band. Instead, Department of Eagles exhibits a coy nostalgia: While never grandiose in its demands on the listener, In Ear Park contains gentle references to a few fundamental entries in the pop canon like Transformer, Pet Sounds and some of the cacophonous four-track wonders of acid-era Beatles.
The title track begins with a prologue that is oddly similar to the guitar-and-banjo score of Deadwood, but as the song blossoms into a subdued waltz, the album dispenses with its folkie exterior and tries an adventurous pop-fusion experiment. The standout track “No One Does It Like You” is a fuzzy synthesis of a bassline that sounds as if it’s being pushed through a blown-out woofer and vocals that are accented with a string section that sounds like it was recruited straight from the Pet Sounds sessions. “Teenagers” sustains itself with drowsy bluster and is reminiscent of two tracks from Lou Reed’s Transformer, “Goodnight Ladies” and “New York Telephone Conversation,” though with a tempo that splits the difference between those two. And then there’s the woozy “Around the Bay,” “Herring Bone,” “Classical Records” and “Waves of Rye,” which are as close to Beatles-esque as one gets this side of Elliott Smith’s XO and Figure 8. This series of songs is the centerpiece of In Ear Park, moaning and layering their sound like “A Day In the Life,” complete with handclapping, ambient noise, buzzing, clatter and chimes, whistling, backmasking, background conversations, pianos pounded in major keys, trudging percussion and, of course, abrupt endings.
The record’s folksy instrumentation (guitar, banjo, double bass) and sampling are accompanied by a consistent, though not initially obvious, song structure. Decoding the structure is easy enough after spinning the black circle a couple times: Songs begin lethargically and the vocals and instruments grope at each other, struggling to agree on how to establish the rhythm. Once they coalesce, each blooms, but the tracks refuse to linger in the thrall of the climax. And this format is the deal-maker/breaker whether you’re an uninitiated or a tuned-in listener: to the former, the album’s undulation may frustrate; to the latter, Department of Eagles could seem like a one-trick pony.