September 27, 2007

Rogue Wave Stays Awake, Changes Sound

Print More

Rogue Wave isn’t a band that got famous because the members are hotties. On the contrary — like many of their indie rock contemporaries — the band looks like they were victims of a beat down by the Ugly Stick. They are, however, a great outfit to promote Zach Rogue’s introspection over subtle melancholic lullabies, or at least they were.
Asleep at Heaven’s Gate rocks harder, by far, than either of Rogue Wave’s other two albums. Sure there were mock rock tracks like “Endless Shovel” or “Publish My Love,” but even those are no comparison to this album. Rogue Wave used to be about the subtleties of the acoustic stuff and the whimsy that was the occasional song offering an electric guitar. Their third album throws the drum kit to the forefront of the recording booth, giving it a prime influence on all but two tracks on the record, “Christians in Black” and “Missed.”
First things first. Listening to the first three seconds of just drums on the first track of Asleep At Heaven’s Gate, “Harmonium,” I thought I was listening to “I Think We’re Alone Now.” And not the Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1967 hit. Most definitely the fully 80-fied Tiffany version that the girl sang in her grand tour of malls. You can tell that, although I do love a good Tiffany jam every now and then, these were three frightful seconds listening to one of my favorite bands’ new record for the first time. Tiffany? Really guys? Tiffany?
Four more seconds, and the first power chord told me this was no Tiffany tune. But I take pause again: power chord? Rogue Wave is that band that fills up half an indie rock record with one sensitive little man and his acoustic guitar, cooing about love and death and whatnot. I’m usually asleep within the first few bars of those songs — which is, indeed, part of their appeal — so I’ve gleaned as much understanding of those lyrics as I have from that English lecture I never attended last spring. (Thanks for the gentleman’s B+, professor.) I’m seven seconds into the first song, and I’ve already had two moments of utter confusion as to what Rogue Wave is doing with themselves. Let’s proceed.
Six minutes into the six-and-a-half minute song, I figured out (hey, sometimes I work fast, and sometimes I don’t) that “Harmonium” is a departure for Rogue Wave, but it’s not a Tiffany-esque or Nickleback-ish departure. The swelling guitars and piano that fill out the song are a new vibe for Zach Rogue’s high tenor, and not a bad one at all. Every so often, you’ll hear a tinge of that cacophonic guitar that the band loved to fling in their songs like “Seasick on Land,” kind of a throwback to former Rogue Wave incarnations, but so far its like Rogue Wave meets Britpop, which is like delicious cookies meets delicious ice cream. It’s a delicious ice cream sandwich of indie rock.
The thing that keeps it Rogue Wave is definitely the Zach Rogue vocals and his signature harmonic warble, although he plays it up in different ways on this album, hearkening to sounds I never thought I would compare Rogue Wave to.
“Own Your Own Home” sounds like a Neil Young track at the outset, and towards the end of the track, the sound mushrooms into a xylophone seizure. “Harmonium” is sweeping and there is some Bruce Springsteen in the type of rollicking, pounding piano. “Lullaby” employs the Rogue Wave signature listenable dissonance to the effect of creating a mini-genre of indie grunge. The crunching guitars blended with instruments like triangles, and maybe even a glockenspiel here or there, sounds like Nirvana’s lovechild with the Arcade Fire.
“Chicago X 12” is a perfect example of how Rogue Wave doesn’t depress you, but you gather the guys were in a less-than-ecstatic state about life when they recorded. As a matter of fact, one of the guys in the band needed a kidney transplant, which might put a bit of a damper on a recording session. The album isn’t a Debbie Downer, though, its more of a trip into the recesses of the mind that you generally don’t explore if you don’t have to — but its not as bad as you’d think. This song is pleasantly melancholic, and almost uplifting in its melancholy.
At three and a half minutes short of an hour, the album does run a bit long. It’s a hefty amount of time to listen to such exercises in the downhearted, especially compared to the 40 minute Descended Like Vultures and even less with Out of the Shadow. And admittedly “Cheaper Than Therapy” is not the best song to go out on, probably the most outwardly depressing on the album and the least interesting. Overall, though, the album offers a new direction for a band that put out two albums worth of great but similar tunes. I definitely didn’t fall asleep during this one.