Rogue Wave – Out of the Shadow

Rogue Wave
Out of the Shadow

What happened in the last 10 years that suddenly made it okay for well-heeled hipsters to start drinking PBR and wearing $30 AC/DC T-shirts? Ok, so on “Pot Kettle Black,” Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy told us that “everything’s a comeback,” but damn it, Jeff, the sui generis Yankee Hotel Foxtrot hit the jangly center of our nerves with something new AND familiar. What are you trying to tell us Tweedy? Bands like Jet are a comeback, welcome or not, and succeed more as revivalists or tricked-out AC/DC tribute bands than as a new vein of rock music. But The Ramones weren’t a comeback. Listen Without Prejudice-era George Michael wasn’t even a comeback, even though he was making a comeback album.

Sadly, in today’s musical climate, Zach Rouge, writer and frontman of Sup Pop’s Rogue Wave, has to pass the contemporary music security check to make sure he’s not smuggling any untoward Def Leppard chords into our heads or doing some sort of ill-advised ironic take on Journey’s oeuvre. But it may be a disservice to compare Zach Rogue’s songwriting on Rogue Wave’s first album, Out of the Shadow, to anyone else’s, though this album will certainly engender comparisons to The Shins, Sonic Youth, and, less often, XTC.

Beginning with the bright “Every Moment” the album takes a carefully insouciant spin on pop, forgoing the slyly referential for the rightly reverential. It’s clear that Rogue has more on his mind than aping the latest hip rockers from yesteryear. We get some idea of Rogue’s feelings about pop music on the short-and-sweet “Seasick on Land,” where he tips his Strat to past masters by quickly transforming his chords into their logical forebear, “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.

Similar things are happening on “Be kind – Remind,” a spare acoustic track with Beatles written all over it – easy melodies, canned sounds of birds chirping (are they blackbirds?), a picking pattern that McCartney might have devised. On “Falcon Settles Me,” Rogue writes “Open your window shade, see people being undivided” while slinging enough golden-toned phrasings and spare acoustic arrangements to conjure the layered harmonies of CSN and/or Y (in his lighter incantations).

By the time “Endgame” rolls around, you start to get the feeling that Rogue could sing a sestina in Klingon and you’d still feel as if he were confessing. “And all the melodies sound the same,” Rogue writes. Not quite, my young Rogue. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie and The Shins, Rogue’s logical sonic contemporaries, just might not have the melodic moxie to rival Rogue’s. Some of his melodies are so easily memorable they make The Thrills sound like Rammstein.

Sure, Rogue’s music can be seen as a comeback of the vocal harmonies and sunny intonations of the 60s and early 70s. Yet, on standout lonely-man tracks like “Postage Stamp World,” “Man-Revolutionary!”, and the walking bass-lined “Kicking the Heart Out,” Rogue proves his mettle as a stand-alone singer/songwriter who can easily meld cheer and melancholic brood. To put it another way, when you’re writing things like, “What makes the wild wind whistle? What makes the birdies sing?” as Rogue does on “Kicking,” and no emotionality is lost, then you know you’ve got that darn elusive ‘it’. And what it is ain’t Bon Scott in a Puma jacket.

Out of the Shadow is proof that pop music has more to offer than vintage wristbands and Winger reunions. As Rogue says on “Man-Revolutionary!”, a gorgeous, mandolin-tinged ode to unrequited love, “It’s completely normal, I guess, I guess, I guess.” If only such songs were normal.