Department of Eagles

Pub date January 20, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

PREVIEW Considering that the Brooklyn band Department of Eagles’ much-praised, tres delectable nugget of fast-forward/throwback rock, In Ear Park (4AD), resides so firmly in those lazy, hazy, haunted memories of youth, there’s something exquisitely fitting about the fact that 26-year-old East Bay native Fred Nicolaus is bringing his collaboration Grizzly Bear member and ex–New York University roommate Daniel Rossen back to the Bay for its first show at a venue frequented as a ska-loving Oakland kid. "I remember seeing a weird swing band there — Lee Press-On and the Nails?" he recalls from snowy Pennsylvania.

The Nails don’t crop up on the album — the follow-up to the group’s 2003 debut, The Cold Nose (The Whitey on the Moon UK LP) initially released by Oakland’s Isota Records and reissued by American Dust — nor do the years between NYU and today that Nicolaus spent toiling in the nine-to-five trenches of publishing ("The first magazine I worked for was Industrial Equipment News — the most doomed experience of all time!"). Instead DOE plunges into a many-pleasured, multitextured wonderland teeming with groaning cello, swooping samples, clattering toy pianos, and blissfully ethereal vocals — and tender backward glances to neglected classical LPs, childhood retreats, and the more ecstatic musical ruminations of Van Dyke Parks. "It was about taking that idea of using weird, amazing arrangements and applying them to music that’s more poppy," Nicolaus says of the band, once dubbed Whitey on the Moon UK after the protestations of the SF combo also named for the Gil-Scott Heron track.

The twosome worked on In Ear Park for years "in the margins of Grizzly Bear’s recording and touring schedule," with Nicolaus dreaming up with the raw ideas for the songs and Rossen molding them into shape. "When you work on something for five years," Nicolaus explains humbly, "you can afford to throw away stuff that isn’t up to par." Now the pair is tackling their studio creations live, assisted by a full band that includes Grizzly Bear’s Chris Bear, on an outing that Nicolaus believes "might be our only tour, really," since Grizzly Bear is committed to completing a 2009 full-length. Still, Nicolaus is delighted to find that DOE’s tunes can work without their aural finery: "It’s reassuring that with these songs, if you took their clothes off they’d still be able to stand up."

DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES With Cave Singers. Sun/25, 7 and 10 p.m., $15. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016,