Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reviews:: Rogue Wave Asleep at Heaven's Gate

It's interesting to read all of the hippie comments about this band after their Subpop contract ended and they signed with Brushfire records. Sure, JJ is in tune with nature, but the new Rogue Wave release is their darkest and most aggressive sounding record to date. There is more crunch from the electric guitars than from bowls of granola. There's more anger and tension than relaxing sounds to aid your walk through a park while you smoke a joint. In fact, the record doesn't take on a folk appearance until Christian Black (six songs in, and it's a song about suicide) and the acoustic only takes the lead on a few tracks (like the beautiful Cheaper Than Therapy, Lullabye and Chicago X12).

After several listens, my initial reaction is that the record is consistent and enjoyable, but doesn't have the immediate impact of Descended Like Vultures and Out of the Shadow and is laced in dark undertones. As much as I hate to harp on this time and time again, it's probably due to the length. Asleep at Heaven's Gate is an opus for the band as it almost breaks the hour mark. It's not that there are too many songs (as the song writing is balanced and strong), it's that the songs run long and blend at times as a result. While this is at times challenging, as songs play out, you realize Rogue Wave wants to move away from simple hooks and have matured as a band. Is that maturation for everyone? Of course not, but after the two years they've endured, it's something fans will have to accept.

The band has gone through a lot of changes - the label switch up, death, life, Pat's successful kidney transplant, a new bass player - but surprisingly the record seems really cohesive. Zach's vocals and acoustic are no longer the star player, as the songs balance the instrumentation with the vocals and the electric guitar, percussion and sound effects all share the stage. The album shocks you with from the opening notes. The extended chaos that starts Harmonium - the strings and pace of the track make you think it could be written by Matt Pond - is a big change (but natural if you look at 10:1 I guess), and for the next 24 minutes, the band keeps it's foot on the accelerator. Booming choruses and soaring swells on the tracks might be unsettling for long time fans, but help the band make the needed change. If they had come back with another record of acoustic riffs and nice percussion, people would have got bored.

Zach hasn't completely abandoned his songwriting style: Like I Needed and Chicago X12 still exhibit elements of their "old" sound, but on this record they don't catch a hook and ride it to shore (see how I threw a surfing metaphor in there to tie in the Brushfire stuff). Instead, they use transitions, ebbs and flows and avoid the trap of crafting a hook and relying on it. Chicago X12 uses nice layered harmonies and a steel drum / percussion vibe but it changes up the pitch with sound effects and feedback for a dense, two minute outro. Fantasies starts with soothing harmonies and an acoustic riff, but heavier drums and strums change the mood of the song quickly.

A couple of the newer sounding songs don't work for me - like Phonytown, which seems to meander endlessly for the five minute length - but I am really embracing the energy (the build on Own Your Own Home is great and it flows nicely into the swirling intro and more straightforward progression of Ghost) the band delivers. It's a new direction, but one I think they needed to take. But I think the band can say it better than I can, so direct from the horses mouth - "we tried a lot of new things this time around. we have talked it over and we think it sounds best when played very loud. don't muss yer ears or nuthin, but do please give it some good volume."
MP3:: Chicago X12 (via Stereogum)
web site :: label

Posted at 11:59 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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