Alex Schaaf Is in Control

January 5th, 2011

Yellow Ostrich – Mercury Lounge – January 4, 2010

(Photo: Jared Levy)

(Photo: Jared Levy)

The business model that once dictated the sale of music is no longer. MP3s cleaved the physical album into digital fractals and now songs are essentially free commodities to digest and dispose of at will. Those who bemoan the change fight against a powerful tide, not easily avoided or bested. But musicians who embrace the digital shift appear to have the high ground, morally if not monetarily. And after an output of two full-length albums and multiple EPs in two years, Alex Schaaf, the central force behind Yellow Ostrich, controls the future of his project and product.

Now, situated in New York City and performing with former We Are Scientists drummer Michael Tapper, Schaaf has begun shifting his focus toward expanding and refining Yellow Ostrich’s live show. Last night at Mercury Lounge, Schaaf, along with a bevy of looping pedals, a laptop and an electric guitar, transformed his delicate melodic voice and two-man band into a much larger, textured sound. The duo opened with 2010’s The Mistress standout “Whale.” Schaaf, who navigated each song through the patterned triggering and disarming of programmed loops, appeared confident as he balanced his multi-instrumental duties.

The short set gave a generous sample of Schaaf’s affable personality both through his stage banter and music. With much gratitude for the near-capacity crowd, he opened each song with a smile that lingered as he harmonized and shaped the arrangements of the songs. Yellow Ostrich’s interpretation of indie-styled folk music invites comparisons to Dirty Projectors, though it seems most closely aligned with Merrill Garbus’s work as tUnE-yArDs. But, where Schaaf and his contemporaries diverge is in their approach toward creating and releasing music. Yellow Ostrich is steadily adding more tour dates throughout the city even though there are no albums to sell. And when it comes to creating and distributing music in the digital age, this might be the right goodwill introduction for a young, talented musician. —Jared Levy