How Cosmos, Carl Sagan, and Space Influenced Yellow Ostrich

Categories: Indie Rock

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Courtesy of Yellow Ostrich
Yellow Ostrich

In the video for Yellow Ostrich's "Mary," a young girl dashes through woods, then trips and falls in slow motion. The cover for Ostrich's fifth album, Cosmos, features a still from videographer Bas Jan Ader tilting sideways, ready to fall. Likewise, the album features a track called "Things Are Fallin'." It turns out that dropping, tumbling, keeling over, and other cruel gravitational tricks are popular themes for frontman/guitarist Alex Schaaf to explore.

"It's the line between stuff like Jackass -- oh, people falling down, something funny to laugh at," Schaaf says via phone. "Gravity is such a simple thing. We take it for granted. It's acting on everyone here at the same time. We're powerless against it, something that's such a huge thing that we don't think about . . . It's like an alternative to religion, kind of -- the huge forces that control our lives that we kind of take for granted."

The Cosmos cover does an excellent job of summing up the album's themes, but as you might have guessed, the title itself comes from the book and TV series starring Carl Sagan.

"I really love this whole thing about how studying space and all that scientific stuff and astronomy is totally connected to our everyday life. It's not like, 'Oh, we're off studying the stars; we have problems back home," Schaaf says. "[Sagan's] really good about bringing it all together and making it seem really magical and amazing, the forces that are acting on us everyday. I like [how] his science writing doesn't dumb down the stuff, but they'll invite everyone to think about these big things."

Even when they're about massive celestial objects like moons and stars, many of Yellow Ostrich's songs are introverted and deal with the small, inner emotions of someone who both longs for human connection and wishes to hide from it. "Neon Fists" discusses world weariness and social anxiety. "Stay at Home," off 2012's Strange Land, begins with choppy drums and punk-ish riffs, but despite its upbeat charms, it wants to push you away. On "My Moons," Schaaf asks, "Don't you love when you can't be found?" but soon notes that once you "Find a cave . . . They'll flush you out."


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