Department of Eagles’ lovely 2008 album, In Ear Park, was such a breakthrough for Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus that it could be easy to forget that not only did the duo have a body of work before its release, but they tried to record a second album years before. The straightforwardly named Archive 2003-2006 captures the attempts Department of Eagles made over those years to make the follow-up to The Cold Nose (aka The Whitey on the Moon LP). Despite the scattered nature of the recording sessions and the varying states of completion these songs are in, Rossen and Nicolaus found ways to make this more than just a slapped-together collection of odds and sods. The “Practice Room Sketches” -- ghostly traces of a piano melody here, a skeletal song there -- link together the more fleshed-out tracks and add an open-ended wistfulness to the whole affair. Surprisingly though, most of Archive’s songs are closer to finished than not, and several of them rival the tracks that made it onto Department of Eagles’ official albums. “Flip” and “While We’re Young”’s brisk, symphonic folk-pop have just as much hooky flair as “No One Does It Like You”; meanwhile, “Golden Apple”’s slowly unfolding space lullaby is so unique that it’s a shame it didn’t get the full Department of Eagles treatment. However, the band did recycle parts of these songs into other tracks: the banjo melody from the pretty but somewhat disjointed “Deadly Disclosure” ended up on the In Ear Park song “Balmy Night.” As always, the Grizzly Bear comparisons are inevitable, but Archive falls closer to Yellow House’s rustic experiments than to Veckatimest’s multifaceted dazzle (which makes sense, since Rossen joined the band in 2004, right in the middle of these sessions). Though songs like “Grand Army Plaza” and “Brightest Minds” -- both of which are great examples of Department of Eagles’ oddly nostalgic sound -- fell by the wayside, they’re too good not to be heard. Archive 2003-2006 is well worth a listen for Department of Eagles and Grizzly Bear fans, especially those intrigued by how albums get made -- or don’t get made, as the case may be.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares