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Compilations of B-sides, "early years" material and demo recordings rarely add up to more than attempts to raise a little post-record petty cash, or maybe posthumous collections of music never made for public consumption. Too often, the result is a letdown, and a reminder that even the best songwriters sift though hours of mediocre material to find their best work.
Fortunately, Department of Eagles' new Archive 2003-2006 is an exception to the rule. Sure, some tracks here are simple practice-room sketches performed by the band's frontman, Grizzly Bear guitarist Daniel Rossen. But others, like "While We're Young," are fully formed songs that could easily have wound up on a Department of Eagles or Grizzly Bear record.
Archive 2003-2006 is nicely programmed to provide a look into the process of not only Department of Eagles, but also Rossen and bandmate Fred Nicolaus' creative lives. It allows listeners an idea of how DoE can get to a song like "While We're Young," with its floating harmonies, Django-like guitar structures and swinging snare drums from nothing but a vocal sample or single piano line.
Because Rossen and Nicolaus control the flow of their old material with such a graceful hand, their audience may never see the sloppy compilations that have ironically become commonplace with more secretive artists. It's an open-door approach that gives Department of Eagles more control, not that the band's fans would complain.