New York songwriter Sam Cohen spent the better part of the oughts working with Sunshine Apollo, an indie band that wove sun-bleached psychedelia and touches of traditional country into its melodic tunes. When that group reached its end in 2009, Cohen began working solo under the name Yellowbirds, eventually expanding the project into a fully formed band for second album Songs from the Vanished Frontier. Over the album's nine tracks, all penned by Cohen, the band taps into the same gentle haze of his previous work; taking cues from both '60s California pop icons as well as the 1990s-2000s underground groups that adored them. Tracks like the lazily melodic "Mean Maybe" and the fuzzy pop of "The Ceiling" fall somewhere between the gentle arrangements of the Beach Boys and Van Dyke Parks and the warm indie country lightheartedness of Beachwood Sparks and the Fruit Bats or the lo-fi tendencies of early Elephant 6 bands like Apples in Stereo and Of Montreal. Bassist Annie Nero provides an unexpected wealth of personality to the songs with her expressive playing. The steadfast electric bass on most of the songs takes on an almost lead-playing character, interspersing the Carol Kaye school of picked high notes with rubbery funk undertones. This just roots the more free-floating elements of Cohen's songs, compressing the orchestrated segments, noisy feedbacking guitar leads, and nostalgic-sounding acoustic guitars and organs into a picture of fluidly flowing pop. Touches of both country twang and space rock psych also keep the Pet Sounds sensibilities at bay, from the echoed drums of "The Vanished Frontier" to the lonely cavernous cowboy guitars of "Love Stories." The warmth of the album comes through in the songwriting, its lyrical content, and the soft-edged production, capturing an insular sense of self-exploration as well as something more universally reaching. Yellowbirds' songs glow with the golden haze of a summer sunset, just dreamy and out-of-time enough to be impossible to put a date on, but rooted enough in sturdy arrangements to keep from floating off into the ether.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas