Several months after the release of his 2012 solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile, Daniel Rossen turned 30. That’s when his brain planted the seed of self-doubt that has hindered the Grizzly Bear co-frontman and multi-instrumentalist’s intuitive approach to making music ever since. “Everything became a constant interrogation: Is this any good? What are you doing, and why are you still doing it?” Rossen recalled. “It sucks. It never ends.” The next year, he ditched the indie rock scene in Brooklyn and moved to rural upstate New York with his girlfriend. He wanted to escape the city’s claustrophobic, productivity-obsessed mindset, but he couldn’t find peace, even in remote pockets of nature—an inevitability he anticipated but wasn’t quite ready to accept. And so, Rossen caved and welcomed change: He recorded 2017’s ambitious Painted Ruins with Grizzly Bear, moved across the country to New Mexico, and married his longtime partner, with whom he is now raising a daughter. If he couldn’t outrun the unpredictability of life, he might as well take it in stride.
Rossen embraces this vulnerable state of mind on You Belong There, his debut full-length. Over 10 songs, he uses sweeping woodwind harmonies and his customary intricate guitar work to color in tales of self-sovereignty, creeping anxiety, and the daunting open-endedness of adulthood. In the past, Rossen has tended toward cryptic minimalism, but emotional honesty suits him. The warmth of his voice counterbalances the darker moments he recounts, with lyrics exploring the isolation of rural living, his vaguely spiritual connection to nature, and the way new fatherhood led him to reconsider tendencies inherited from his own parents. “Deep red seething anger/It is natural, all too familiar/That legacy is yours and mine to own,” he sings on “I’ll Wait for Your Visit.” In Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, he often deferred to his bandmates when it was time to pen lyrics. On You Belong There, Rossen places the spotlight on himself: It feels like a reintroduction.
During the last two years, Rossen taught himself to play upright bass, clarinet, and other woodwinds from the comfort of his home studio. But his most dazzling work occurs, as always, on the guitar. Rossen is a virtuoso, and his influences—Brazilian folk, blues, classical, ’70s jazz—melt together in a hypnotic way. It’s no wonder that he was drawn to Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and Jim O’Rourke as a teenager; all three use atypical chords in unconventional tunings, an approach rooted in the desire to push the guitar to its limits. For Rossen, these techniques allow him to experience amorphous chords, dissonant progressions, and unpredictable tension with a sense of discovery. On songs like “Celia” or “I’ll Wait for Your Visit,” Rossen never experiments for obscurity’s sake; he seeks melodies that sound like they’re on the outside of pop music looking in. It’s the closest he has ever come to composing classical guitar pieces that stand up alongside his heroes.