A trek along the “Cosmos” on the back of Yellow Ostrich

by Michael Ray Ferlazzo

I was 9 years old when the media filled the air with Y2K paranoia. Being the creatures that we are, you know – humans – we are a product of our environment, conditioned by our surroundings, I soaked in all the paranoia. It derailed me from my childish disposition, already jaded by Eminem, and made me aware of not just death, but the apocalypse.

For months I was spooked by it all, until one day it spilled out of my mouth while sitting with my grandfather over bagels and vegetable cream cheese. He looked right through me and finished chewing before standing, patting my head, and strolling into his room. After a minute he came back and placed a book next to me. He told me the world wasn’t what I thought it was and not to worry myself with what I saw on the screens around me.

The book was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Now, I was 9, I couldn’t comprehend the text, but I prided myself in carrying around this book as adults always seemed impressed by it, and I became comforted by the illustrations. As I grew with the book, I realized the theme throughout it was the way in which civilization grew along side of science.

It is synchronous that Yellow Ostrich, now a four piece band, is releasing an album entitled Cosmos just two weeks before the premiere of the Cosmos series on Netflix.

It can be magniloquent for a band to title an album after such a canonical show and grandiose theme, but Alex Schaaf isn’t treading lightly. He spent nine months holed up without ventilation, in a room submerged in the cosmos, delving into dimensional depths and came out with the skeleton that is this new album. You can hear its genesis spread throughout the album – a mind wandering about the sprawling universe without direction and no way home while its body sits trapped behind walls.

Yellow Ostrich feels fully formed here. No longer Schaaf’s project, but a band of musicians. There is a level of apparent maturity that has been reached, where they have found their bearings and are cavalcading out into the world with a steady confidence. The ways in which new members, Zach Rose on bass and Jared van Fleet on keyboard, guitar and electronics, contribute to the band allows for a cohesive sound to be crafted. No longer does it seem like there are a bunch of talents and sounds being thrown into a pot, where the garlic burns before the onions caramelize. Instead, there are simple layers weaving in and out of each other with symmetry, simmering into harmony before compounding and creating complexities to reflect the chaos that builds and breaks in the world around us.

From the album opener, “Terrors”, the tone is set for the listener to be dazed and prodded throughout to the ending when we are let down easily and told not to be afraid after the destruction of things falling down around us. The effect of van Fleet is valuable and capacious, as he creates an opaque nebula to house the album and magnetize the listener in along for the voyage – while Schaaf leads the way, making you feel safe and comfortable.

Too many days does one wake up and feel “tired in a strange new way” aboard this “little speck of blue.” The development is evident in Schaaf, he doesn’t linger on the ego and expands his lyrics. He doesn’t just see himself, but he sees others out there while he floats on by.

Carl Sagan had said that because of the Greeks’ post-Socratic fascination and focus on the inner world and the soul, the human race was stunted and civilization never expanded upon itself at the rate in which they were capable. The concentration was not on the world around us, but instead the ego within. With a myopic eye. Yellow Ostrich is aware of this. They are moving forward, and the synchronicity of the Cosmos series airing on television may be a sign that great things are to come for this band. Let’s just hope they don’t get lost along their odyssey.

Cosmos is out on February 25 on iTunes