Album Review: Daniel Rossen – You Belong There

[Warp; 2022]

It would appear that the unfortunate (but still ambiguous) dissolution of 2000s genre-defining art-rock band Grizzly Bear in 2020 was the catalyst Daniel Rossen needed. Having laid low for much of the last five years since the band’s final album Painted Ruins, Rossen is now able to forge his own path.

While his Grizzly Bear co-singer Ed Droste has veered away from music in favor of therapy and podcasts, Rossen’s first solo effort, You Belong There, picks up where Grizzly Bear and his defunct Department of Eagles project intersect – that Brooklyn rock sound that carried the band through multiple successful releases and even earned the admiration of Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

You Belong There is sort of the Grizzly Bear album that we didn’t get, but, now that it’s here, one can’t help but wonder what could have been. Without Droste supporting him, Rossen’s compressed vocals almost feel remorseful about the possibilities. There’s been little explanation for the band’s demise, but if looking for clues then “Unpeopled Space” may indicate that it’s due to a lack of cohesive creativity; “Nothing’s lost, when there’s nothing,” Rossen croons on the six-minute wander.

Rossen’s other former band Department of Eagles last released an album in 2008 – the lush and sentimental In Ear Park – and have only delivered an archival set of songs since. Despite this, You Belong There feels more indebted to that singular sound than anything Grizzly Bear had done since Yellow House. Veckatimest and Shields both explored baroque and chamber pop elements, something Droste pushed more than Rossen it seems. This leaves You Belong There sparse on the pop and accessibility, instead heading into thickets of more painstakingly knotted arrangements.

It wouldn’t be a Rossen record without that cathedral impression, purposely hollow and echoing. It’s evident that he felt more isolated, and therefore perhaps more liberated to explore his own musical proclivities this time out. Rossen’s a multi-talented instrumentalist, and he pushes his expertise to the limit with woodwinds, cello, and upright bass on “Shadow in the Frame”, but relies heavily on his signature spiraling guitar work on tracks like “I’ll Wait For Your Visit”. Perhaps its because he moved to New Mexico since Grizzly Bear last convened, but the continual mentions of isolation and references to belonging makes You Belong There feel like a post-script to the last five years of turmoil with his other band.

Much of You Belong There centers on Rossen’s environment, whether it be New York or Sante Fe, and it’s influenced him like nothing else has before. All the arrangements feel organic and overflow from track to track. Rossen’s crafted a purposeful exploitation of his emotions as always, but this time it’s fully under his control.

Rossen’s work has traditionally taken on a depressive nature due to his solemn vocals, but with You Belong There he sounds more discouraged than before. The beaten down penultimate track “The Last One” finds him quivering, talking about dying alone and passing along his visions. This vulnerability makes You Belong There the perfect bookend to Grizzly Bear if they are in fact done. Perhaps the next album will start from a fresher, freer point.