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Department of Eagles

“Soundwalk”-style. You know, just like these wonderful little audio guides do, walking people through some areas of Paris or New York using MP3s that are synchronized with the walker’s pace, whose soundtrack makes them feel like they’re the protagonist of a movie. Well, we shot that movie, and Department Of Eagles was our guide.

Department Of Eagles is almost a secret band, a band in retreat. They’re like this for many reasons. First, because they had never played live, except for one single radio session, which was released as a CD (Johnny Glaze Christmas: Classical Snatches and Samples a Go-Go 2003-2005 EP). Not even one show, never–and for a New York band, the least you can say is that this is a deliberate choice. Secondly, they’re not a very active band; they even call themselves “the most popular semi-active band of the US”. It’s important to note that the main reason for this semi-activity is that one of the two members, Daniel Rosse, is rather hyperactive. In fact, right after the release of their first album The Whitey On The Moon (also released under the name The Cold Nose, and easily one of the best albums of 2005), he joined Grizzly Bear, a band that has become quite famous over the last two years. Fred Nicolaus, the other half of the band, works full-time.

Nevertheless, Department Of Eagles is far from dead; the duet is still recording and currently preparing a new CD (the first song of this session comes from it.) “No One Does It Like You”, a wonderful pop song that reminds us of Paul McCartney and Randy Newman, pierces your head as fast as a Beatles song. So why does this super-talented band, whose music is at least as inspired as Grizzly Bear’s, stay in the shadows?

Is it a matter of attitude? The “Museum of Modern Arts, Department Of Eagles” is an imaginary museum created by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, self-proclaimed Curator-in-Chief, whose main goal was to offer backgrounds, some sorts of ready-mades in reference to writers or poets, while playing with the contradictory relationship between language and image. The music of Department Of Eagles is grounded in this contradiction, fed with illegal sampling, parody, collages, and puns. Arrangements on the first album are surprising: notes from the band blend in with phrases by Beethoven. The band’s greatest strength is its ability to cleverly and casually achieve wonderful pop songs, avoiding the pitfall of today’s music consumption: rapid changes and playlist culture. This is exactly what the videos show: with no arrangement, bare, and exposed, the song reveals its wonderful composition.

Let’s go back to Chinatown, where Daniel Rossen starts singing “Deep Blue Sea”, a sublime traditional American ballad (supposedly based on an Irish piece of music), on a playground. It illustrates everything that makes a Take Away Show so charming and magical.

They reconciled the opposition between language and image by creating short, poised moments of freedom, at once frail and intense. To me, this is one of the most beautiful moments of all these video sessions. It was very sunny, this day in Chinatown; this teeming setting was allayed by Daniel’s voice. Smiling faces in the background, like temporary passengers dragged off by chance into the music that keeps on moving.

Once, I realized the Take Away Shows I love the most are those where the musicians just walk around, wander in the street while playing, because this is something they’re not supposed to be able to do. What happens, then, is a beautiful reversal: it’s the music, not them, that keeps on moving forward, until the end of the song. And here, a little girl stumbles, as if forgetting how to walk on her own.

The first part of the journey ends with “You Move Too Fast”, a brand new song, like the previous two.

The stroll continued in Chinatown, first with “Sailing By Night”, the only song from the first album. We allowed ourselves to drift with the band in a mall and a restaurant, when a sudden fade-out started blurring everything. When “What Can Be Done” began, we started to feel like it was a joke. Yes, it could only be a joke: an American post office standing right in the middle of a dozen Chinese shops and empty restaurants; Fred pretending to play the guitar on “Balmy Nights”; Teresa pretending to record and slapping herself; passers-by pretending not to see us; the camera pretending to be a passer-by; a district pretending to be American; an American band whose only performance happened in front of a Chinese barbershop; streets pretending not to have cars anymore; images pretending to be our memories…

We got lost willingly in Chinatown, smiling, thanking the two guys again.

By the way, their first album has just been released by American Dust with many new songs, yippee.

Translated by Nora