Within the context of Grizzly Bear, Daniel Rossen plays the traditionalist, sharing Van Dyke Parks’ knack for ornamental layering, but never obscuring that there’s an actual song under there. Isolated on his first solo release, this core strength becomes even more apparent. The five tracks that make up Silent Hour/Golden Mile aren’t wildly different than those he’s impeccably assembled with Grizzly Bear (and many of them began as potential Grizzly Bear demos) or his psychedelic Tin Pan Alley project Department Of Eagles. There’s the same dazed romanticism to his melodies, the same jazzy, graceful lilt to the way they carry themselves. But here they sound even more naked, built primarily from spare acoustic guitar strums or simple piano chords, then recorded in echoing rehearsal spaces with only a smattering of guest collaborators.
That vulnerability colors the record with a sense of loneliness, even in its livelier moments. “Silent Song” and “Golden Mile” are both built on picking-up-the-pieces sentiments and sweeping, sea-shanty rhythms—Rossen most readily recalls Elliott Smith in his affinity for the waltz—but they’re interrupted by a wistful, George Harrison-esque guitar slide that cuts through the swagger like a sudden painful memory. “Return To Form” builds to a surprisingly cocky glam-rock breakdown that Marc Bolan would dig, but it’s just a brief release from the thick tangles of fingerpicked guitar, and lyrics in which Rossen begs the listener to “find the peace that you deserve,” far from the madding crowd.
His plea echoes the refrain of opener “Up On High,” in which Rossen offers, “In this big empty room / You finally feel free to sing for me” as a thesis statement for the whole record—written, Rossen says, as a way of finding himself again after getting lost in the touring machine. He crawls deepest inside that hermetic stillness on the bare, beyond-plaintive piano ballad “Saint Nothing,” as woodwinds and smoky brass answer his own quietly mournful tenor. And it’s here, at his most alone, that Rossen proves he can stand on his own.