If landing a spot on a hot tour is the music-biz equivalent of winning the lottery, indie rockers Rogue Wave, who this spring finagled a gig opening for The Shins, scored big time.
Zach Rogue, front and center of the fabulously poppy California four-piece, has that kind of luck. After putting together a rough draft with only his pen and a producer friend, Rogue fielded responses to an open call for musicians, and unlike the thousands of unrequited, flyer-wielding hopefuls currently wallpapering your city's streets actually came away with three like-minded talents. Drummer Pat Spurgeon, bassist Sonya Westcott, and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Gram Lebron make up the rest of Rogue Wave, all possessing the same innate skill and ear for innovative, hook-riddled arrangements that characterized Rogue's demo. And then Rogue got himself signed to Seattle-based Sub Pop, who have made a comeback thanks to the success of Postal Service.
The good vibrations generated within the group permeate these dozen tracks. Infused
with vocals that float atop an orchestra of acoustic guitars, lilting bass lines
and delicate drumwork, Rogue's first sketch has blossomed into a florid exercise
of mid-1960s pop reinvention, The Byrds and early 1990s counterparts The La's
each offering minor elements of their sound for Rogue to rethink and retool.
It's not hard to hear Roger McGuinn's 12-string filling in just fine for Rogue's
propping arpeggios on the idyllic "Falcon Settles Me," nor Lee Mavers' flyover
vocals and newfangled jangle as the supports for the charged-up "Seasick on Land." Like
label- and tourmates The Shins, however, the Rogues manage to sound something
like these bands without sounding just like them; as on the jaw-dropping Oh,
Inverted World, Out of the Shadow takes its golden-oldie influences
and, in a show of Midas-like musical mastery, turns them into a parade of golden-shaded
Rogue Wave make a severe impression with this remastering of their initial demo. Out
of the Shadow may be a debut, but from the opening effect bubbles
bursting in step with a bed of Fender feedback, all making for a soft setup to
Rogue's stinging words you can tell there's something special going on. "Every
moment/ That you're here/ I feel lashes/ Upon my ear," opens Rogue, ushering
in the precise backdrop of pounding percussion and lush, intricate instrumentation
that completes "Every Moment," the first of four highlight songs spaced evenly,
strangely enough, throughout the record's early odd-numbered tracks.
The leadoff single from this group is "Be Kind + Remind," an airy ballad that begins with a chorus of chirping birdies and ends with echoing synths, in between ballooning into something sounding like James Mercer covering Paul Simon circa, say, 20 years from now. Despite its honeybee loveliness, it's an odd choice for an introduction, given that nothing else on the record sounds much like it. A better choice might've been the fifth cut "Kicking the Heart Out," a harsh, hugely satisfying condemnation of a former lover set to a stream of minor-key mellifluence, or "Sewn Up," where a driving crescendo intro carries Rogue through a perilous swerving stretch of the prettiest twists and turns.
These first, third, fifth and seventh songs steer Shadow through some fairly innocuous subchapters, several superlative the calm surface and downright disturbing fadeout to "Endgame," or the bouncy-Brit, goof-rock charm of "Seasick on Land" but some suspect. "Endless Shovel" begins with a limber, energetic guitar lead, a seemingly perfect cover of the power-pop outfit everyone believes the Foo Fighters to be. But it spends nearly all its momentum by midpoint, affecting a soulless, Grohl-less Foo until the same guitars reemerge at the end, their welcome pall brokered by an extended, noisy squall. Less forgivable are some of the lyrics, which range from hair-raising to head-scratching; the double entendre of "You can all get in line/ And lick my behind" from the otherwise inviting "Postage Stamp World" just gets more depressing with each successive spin.
But don't let these dystopic digressions deter you: Out of the Shadow is a meandering musical path, but one well worth taking. Zach Rogue and his championing label seem a match made in sub-pop heaven, the former's evident muse and elevated musicianship rising above the oft-derailing hiccups of any major-label debut. In the highest of compliments, it's a Sub Pop record through and through, adorned throughout with the small stylistic flourishes and nuanced artistry that crafted a clear makeshift utopia on another stunning debut, this offering useful primarily as a nostalgic return trip to that wonderful Inverted World where an indie label can build a legend of successful subculture soundtracking without a whiff of selling out.