When "Marathon Runner" begins, it's a little familiar and a little chaotic. Fans of Yellow Ostrich's first album, The Mistress, will recognize the voice of singer Alex Schaaf, which sounds most at home when it's threading through his loop pedal. But here, something is broken: The loop is unbalanced, resetting mid-measure, failing to lock into a groove.
Two years ago, Yellow Ostrich was Schaaf making music alone in his bedroom; today, it's a touring trio with a record deal. The curse behind such a blessing is that, suddenly, every choice brings on a flurry of opinion. You've got bandmates to cooperate with, a label to keep happy, festival crowds who may or may not know who you are — but will let you know if they don't think you're earning the $500 they dropped on a badge. The pressure is on to make something that reminds people why they like you, while simultaneously challenging their perception of your capabilities.
All of which makes that broken loop an apt choice. To introduce the first single on his band's second album, Strange Land, Schaaf takes his sonic signature — the one thing listeners know to expect from him — and knocks it out of alignment. As the rest of the group kicks in, the vocal collage fades, then disappears entirely. When the first verse begins, Schaaf steps up to the mic not as a bedroom tinkerer, but as a frontman: singing with one voice, ready for the future.