Daniel Rossen is no stranger to the music scene. He formed the folk duo Department of Eagles in 2000 and then joined up with indie rock’s beloved Grizzly Bear in 2005. Not until his 2012 EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, did I become fully aware of the power of Daniel Rossen as a solo entity. I first heard “Silent Song” in the car on the radio, thanks to WFUV, a New York-based radio station out of Fordham University. It was just a few months after my mother’s death, and I sensed a familiar vulnerability in Rossen’s voice. His words and lush guitar served as a soundtrack to my grief, blanketing me in comfort when none felt possible.
Ten years later, Rossen’s official solo debut LP, You Belong There, is finally here. It is a masterful vocal and acoustic accomplishment. As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel the music belonged in an indie film – it creates such stunning pictures in the mind of its listeners. Rossen’s collaborators include the wildly talented drummer Christopher Bear of Grizzly Bear, electric guitar by John Dieterich of Deerhoof, and some excellent bassoon work from Amber Wyman.
“It’s a Passage” kicks off You Belong There with ambient sound and then builds into several overlapping vocal tracks and Rossen’s signature acoustic guitar. I was reminded of guitar legend Leo Kottke’s One Guitar, No Vocals, though the chords on this opening track are more dissonant. At about a minute and a half in, the song dives into more relatable, structured territory, adding Rossen’s lyrics and Bear’s dynamic drum work.
As the album continues, “Shadow in the Frame”, begins with a classical Spanish guitar riff. The song follows a similar trajectory to “It’s a Passage”, with its sparse instrumentation at the beginning and then multiple layers of strings and drums added in. The lyrics feel reflective and nostalgic for something lost. He sings about “conversations we will never have”, and listeners will feel a deep longing for connection, especially after the upheaval of the past two years.
“You Belong There” is the most experimental and jazzy song. Bowed bass starts it off, and Dieterich adds some magnificent electric guitar flourishes. The lyrics, at times, seem to juxtapose the more chaotic music intentionally. That creates a feeling that the song is somewhat disjointed, but purposely so. Still, it’s a worthy experiment.
One of the album’s biggest highlights is “Unpeopled Space”, which was released as a single in February, shows off Rossen’s classical guitar chops that he warmly hums along with. Once woodwinds, cello, and drums are added in, “Unpeopled Space” crystallizes into something incredible. Rossen echoes earlier lyrics, singing, “We belong here now,” which seems a better fit for this song.
Other enjoyable tracks are the dream-pop-esque “Keeper and Kin”, and especially “The Last One”, which sounds most similar to his previous EP. “The Last One” features Rossen’s gorgeous fingerpicking skills while accentuating his ability to play other stringed instruments incredibly well.
While Rossen’s debut may not always soothe its listeners, as the 2012 release Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP might have done, You Belong There is a solo record worthy of much praise and admiration.