Until 2008's sumptuous In Ear Park album, New York two-piece Department of Eagles was seen as little more than a sometime side project for full-time Grizzly Bear member Daniel Rossen. He formed the band, joining forces with university roommate Fred Nicolaus, back in 2001, and the pair released their The Cold Nose debut two years later. When Ed Droste's Grizzly Bear project became a fully fledged group in 2005, though, Rossen's focus shifted - he wrote material for the rightly celebrated quartet's Yellow House LP of 2006, and has remained a creative force within the four-piece since.
This collection goes some way to confirming why Department of Eagles was seen as the less-important outlet for Rossen in the period between The Cold Nose and Yellow House. While sporadically as magical as the material on In Ear Park, Archive 2003-2006 is more a curio for converts to Grizzly Bear's superb psych-folk/baroque-pop sound than an album proper. It's a fragmented listen, several Practice Room Sketches breaking up the finished arrangements. Much doesn't work - but there's certainly ambition aplenty on show, which would later be refined into the In Ear Park experience. The first track here actually bypassed the Department of Eagles catalogue altogether until now, achieving completion as Yellow House's opener Easier.
The demos - and these are all of a demo quality - that are of a relatively fully formed design largely adhere to the widescreen choral characteristics of their makers' successes to date, even if they're forerunners rather than successors. The layered vocals of Deadly Disclosure point the way towards In Ear Park, likewise the lovely piano-led penultimate piece Golden Apple. Flip is rather more rambunctious, and one of the few offerings here that will surprise fans of these musicians - it's rather more akin to the furiously strummed folk-punk numbers purveyed by the younger Elliott Smith. While We're Young has flown the nest before, having already been employed by Grizzly Bear as a B side.
It's a sometimes perplexing, often very pretty excursion into the recent past of a pair of gifted musicians, but Archive 2003-2006 expectedly holds little appeal beyond a limited audience. That's not to say it's without merit, but if you only buy one Department of Eagles album this week, make it In Ear Park. And if you've not got a Grizzly Bear LP to call your own yet, collect those before working your way back to the rather slighter selections penned by Rossen and Nicolaus.