With a title like The Mistress, the debut LP by erstwhile one-man band Yellow Ostrich suggests that the musician at its core, Wisconsin native Alex Schaaf, feels no fidelity for any one musical style or influence. Throughout The Mistress’ 13 tracks—remastered and expanded for this Barsuk reissue—Schaaf is a home-recorded Dirty Projectors (“Hold On”), a male equivalent to cut-and-paste artist Juana Molina (“Libraries”), a plugged-in Nick Drake (“I’ll Run”), and a fantastic mimic of Jack White (the rollicking, Get Behind Me Satan-esque coda of “Hate Me Soon”). The Mistress also suggests that Schaaf and the now-three-piece Yellow Ostrich are greater than the sum of those reference points—even though the bandleader occasionally places undue emphasis on the “singer” part of “singer-songwriter.” A reedy quiver on its own, Schaaf’s voice nonetheless stacks into enchanting harmonies, which do the heavy lifting on lesser tracks like “Hahahaohhoho.”
Yellow Ostrich shows the most promise when Schaaf is drawn out of himself, illustrated by “Mary” and the alternate take of the song included here. The original follows its self-destructive subject into a downward spiral of looped “oohs” and chunky guitar chords; meanwhile, the full-band version that now closes The Mistress bursts forth with explosive percussion, loping horns, and (of course) mellifluous voices seemingly blown in from the Pacific Coast Highway. A wandering ear suits Schaaf, but he obviously benefits from some forms of musical monogamy.