Department of Eagles co-founder Fred Nicolaus had a rough time prior to the release of his first outing under the Golden Suits moniker. A bad breakup and a rat-fueled adventure in apartment relocation led to some lifestyle changes and a newfound obsession with the late tortured novelist with a penchant for chronicling the secret lives of suburbia, John Cheever, from whom Nicolaus gleaned the name for his new project. The resulting ten-track collection of songs utilizes some of DOE's quirks, especially of the Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman varieties, but Golden Suits owes more to his avian partner in crime Daniel Rossen's meal-ticket band Grizzly Bear than it does anything else. Steeped in handclaps, tambourine, deceptively simple guitar lines, soulful piano, and swirling melodies festooned with enigmatic lyrics, Nicolaus has crafted a truly engaging set of oddball pop songs that deftly blur the line between the convoluted lives of those who populate the pages of Cheever's evocative short stories and Nicolaus' own triumphs and misfortunes. He sets the tone with the galloping "Swimming in '99," an expansive and meandering slice of urban Americana that, like nearly all of the songs on Golden Suits, is as mercurial as it is rooted in nostalgia. There's a sweetness and alacrity to the whole affair, ultimately diffusing the grey clouds from which it sprung. His amiably pitchy voice is always relatable, especially on album highlights like the driving "Didn't I Warn You," its string-laden precursor "I Think You Would Have Been Mine," and the balmy "Find a Way," the latter of which spins the riff from Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" into a spacious, yet measured and surprisingly inspirational, midtempo dirge.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger