Review Summary: Rogue Wave make it back to shore.
Rogue Wave have never been one to rock the boat – if anything, their moniker seems a better fit for the band’s almost cosmically unlucky hardships than their “safe” brand of mid-‘00s college indie. It’s perhaps why Permalight
received such a critical and commercial backlash upon its release in 2010. Rogue Wave was still Rogue Wave, frontman Zach Schwartz and drummer Patrick Spurgeon still the soul and beating heart of the band, and the hooks still sparkly and cleverly hiding the ache that has permeated so much of their work. But all those synths, the spit-shined production, and songwriting that occasionally gave off more artifice than honesty; Permalight
was an unacceptable rocking of the boat. Nightingale Floors
is an all too predictable response, then, safely ensconced as it is in the warm, reverb-heavy sound of beloved predecessors like 2005’s Descended Like Vultures
and an atmosphere far more organic in tone and mood than Permalight
. It’s an environment Schwartz would do well to stay within for future records.
His is a voice for bedrooms and buzzing headphones, equally adept at grief-stricken ruminations as he is as a lover, hopeful and yearning. Here, Schwartz is almost preternaturally reserved, drawing catharsis out on “Figured It Out” and other similarly smoldering tracks; gently, but with a sort of emotional urgency that creeps up on you, especially upon repeated listens. “When Sunday Morning Comes” would sound schmaltzy in another band’s hands, but with Schwartz, the happiness is palpable instead of contrived. It’s a trick rudely reversed in the moments when Rogue Wave sound like just another indie band – first single “College” is borderline formulaic, a certified earworm a la “Love’s Lost Guarantee,” but without the edge and urgency of that particular gem. It doesn’t help that much of Nightingale Floors
is too hazy and vague to make more than a fading impression. The faintly Eastern vibe of “No Magnatone” dissipates before it has a chance to really get going; “Used to It” shows the error in mistaking a hook for a song. Throughout Nightingale Floors
, it seems like the band is attempting to re-capture the quiet brilliance of their debut Out of the Shadow
, that record’s serene textures and easy playfulness. What Nightingale Floors
tends to miss out on, though, is the sincerity and a sense of intimacy that Out of the Shadow
had in spades.
Yet when the band finds that sweet spot between tasteful NPR-rock and Schwartz’s unique delivery, the canvases it opens up for his wounded voice to explore are simply lovely. “Siren’s Song” is Rogue Wave in fine anthemic mode, a song that climbs steadily along crashing guitar parts and a pleading melody that lurches towards a stormy climax, Schwartz spitting out his syllables and trying not to end up crushed. When the quiet push and pull between his malleable vocals and the album’s more hushed settings hit the right notes it remains Rogue Wave’s most winning combination, providing the necessary spark of tension and release in dreamy, somewhat blurry tracks. Few songs in the band’s catalog illustrate this better than closer “Everyone Wants To Be You,” one of the most casually beautiful tunes Rogue Wave have put to record. It’s a lazily strummed memory of Schwartz’s deceased father that spreads out into chunky chords and echo-laden piano, and finishes as hesitant as it started, careening out into a sort of noisy bliss before finding itself again for a short acoustic meditation. It’s rare to see Rogue Wave unravel like this, in bursts of dissonance and an unresolved, heartbreaking ending, but it’s a satisfying bit of absolution nonetheless for a band normally so content to color within the lines.