As I turn on Department of Eagle’s “In Ear Park”, the faint crackle of the acoustic guitar that sneaked its way into the mix excites me as I recognize that I am about to be taken on an aural journey into the enigmatic yet strikingly beautiful world of Daniel Rossen’s songwriting and Chris Taylor’s production. The opening 3/4 Waltz line so smoothly transitions into a 6/8 section by mesmerizingly picked acoustic guitars playing the counterpoint that Rossen so cleverly and carefully weaved into the emotional swell that is this guitar intro. The album cover, a picture of the woods, alludes to the natural, acoustic sound that follows the guitar intro as the full arrangement enters with Rossen’s tender voice delivering morbid lyrics in memory of his father, who passed away only a year before the album release. The song eventually opens up into a surge of vocal harmonies backed by a snare accenting beats two and three to solidify the masterfully arranged Waltz feel.
Despite all the experimental qualities that early Department of Eagles showcased, I still greatly admire "In Ear Park" because it not only shows a more mature sounding group, but they seem to have found the right amount of experimentation on this track. From the Debussy-like chord changes to the layering of instruments, “In Ear Park” has enough musical experimentation to be regarded as original and pioneering, however none of it gets in the way of the listener’s enjoyment. In other words, “In Ear Park” is never too obscure or inaccessible for listeners; it follows conventions but breaks clichés, which makes it all the more interesting.
The song is much like sitting down to talk with someone in the middle of New York City. As the hustle of the city is happening all around, people walking and talking, taxis buzzing by, the person that you’re sitting down with and giving your time to remains constant right in front of you. In the song, all these musical technicalities and nuances are happening, yet Rossen’s grieving voice remains constant, happening right in front of you.
The arrangement of this song is simply outstanding; the different musical elements interact with each other like a couple dancing the Waltz in an old abandoned gothic mansion. The production is extremely clever as well, exemplified by the use of doubling, even tripling acoustic guitars to create Rossen’s notorious swell effect. The nuances and attention to detail by Taylor, is what make the production outstanding, in my opinion. For example, the juxtaposition of the right and left hand of the piano; the right hand mixed far back with a lot of reverb while the left hand is hammering a low D pedal tone right in the front of the mix. The best word to describe the production on this song is rich. The attention to detail is nothing short of inspiring for an aspiring music producer; no section or instrument is left un-embellished and it is done in the subtlest way possible; the production never overpowers the inherent acoustic quality presented by the instruments chosen in the arrangement. You can hear Chris Taylor’s methodical production and sparse elements in a constant battle with Daniel Rossen’s chaotically clever songwriting and arranging.