Under Review: Rogue Wave – Permalight

Since 2002, the Rogue Wave name has appeared on albums that contain tasteful, elegant, largely acoustic music.  That is to say, albums that don’t sound like Permalight.  Of course, there have been some catchy tunes nestled in the band’s three albums, but leader Zach Rogue always favored emotion and atmosphere over commercial appeal.  A lot has happened to the band between their last album and this one, so perhaps a valid reason for the newfound sonic shift can be unearthed there.  First, shortly after the release of Asleep At Heaven’s Gate, former bassist Evan Farrell died in a house fire.  Then Rogue himself was taken to the hospital for a neck injury that left him paralyzed (he has since made a full recovery).  All the while, drummer Pat Spurgeon continued his struggle with kidney failure.  The fact that Rogue Wave is around at all is nothing short of admirable and impressive.  The fact that Permalight is such a misguided and disappointing record is a damn shame.  The most noticeable change in Rogue Wave’s sound is the addition of super-synthisized electronics that sound like the demo tracks on My First Keyboard.  Another is that these songs are irritatingly upbeat and peppy.  I understand that, after horrifying trauma, a musician can either write either blissfully optimistic or reflectively dismal songs.  Since Rogue Wave’s music used to be really downbeat, you’d think that Rogue would come up with some of his best morose material.

Instead, he’s given us “Good Morning (The Future)” and “We Will Make A Song Destroy,” both of which showcase the band’s repulsively refined new sound.  Where older albums had Rogue singing in a muffled, barely intelligible hush, Permalight not only puts him right up front, but tries to make him sound like Ben Gibbard.  The attempts to sound like Death Cab are achingly present, as “You Have Boarded” and the title track feature the overly slick production of Narrow Stairs.  What’s worse is that this production style mars what would otherwise be some incredibly great songs.  “Sleepwalker” features backing harmonies from John Vanderslice and is the only song from Permalight that could feasibly be found on an older album.  Luckily, that song lacks the electronics that trample all over songs like “Fear Itself” and “I’ll Never Leave You.”  Permalight might have made for a great album by some other band, but it’s just not a good Rogue Wave album.  While I can appreciate the desire to make a more upbeat record to lift the band’s spirits, there’s no reason why Rogue Wave couldn’t have made an album that sounded like them but with happier lyrics.  Hopefully, this won’t be the band’s permanent style, and they’ll be back to making good music soon.

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~ by E. on March 26, 2010.

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