Review Summary: An antidote for those cold, gloomy winter days.
“Will you be the bed for me when they set the world on fire / just to see it burn?” frontman Zach Schwartz asks on “Solitary Gun,” the opening song off Rogue Wave’s deliciously bouncy new record Permalight
. For a band that has been through some of the hells Rogue Wave have suffered over the past few years, including the death of a former bandmate and one member’s struggle with kidney failure, “Solitary Gun” is an unexpected shot in the arm, a booster of unbridled joy and money hooks that belie the song’s apocalyptic images. Indeed, “Solitary Gun” is a most unlikely anthem, one that sets the tone for the rest of Permalight
as a bright, buoyant beacon of hope.
Viewed through the context of the band’s three-year hiatus and the tragedies the members’ themselves have suffered, one would be forgiven for thinking that Permalight
would be a dirge of a record, one mired in weepy indie pop and bent on exorcising the ghosts of its past. But while it does exorcise those ghosts, it does it in the most defiant way possible, through bubbling synths and lyrics about love machines like on the obscenely catchy “Good Morning (The Future),” or via quietly surging lullabies like the beautifully glacial “Sleepwalker.” Gone are the dreamy guitar-pop of their past and the constant Shins references – Rogue Wave have embraced electro to buff up their strikingly powerful guitar hooks, and rather than lose themselves in a fad they assimilate it flawlessly, as one listen to single “Good Morning (The Future)” quickly proves.
That’s not to say that the folksy heart of Schwartz’s songwriting has been subverted by mindless hooks; rather, the electronic additions to songs like the gently swelling “Fear Itself” and the jittery hooks of “Stars and Stripes” inject a whole new kind of life into the proceedings. But at the heart of it all is Schwartz’s relentlessly heartening songwriting, which floats from effortless pop-rock to whispery ballads with the same ease and, more importantly, the same strength, both lyrically and musically. It’s the way the gutsy bass line and ragged guitar slowly build to a hammering chorus on “Right With You,” the way “I’ll Never Leave You” somehow turns one of the more clichéd sentiments in rock ‘n roll into a heartrending promise with just a shaker, handclaps, and some beautiful harmonies, the way that every song here just seems overwhelmed with joy. It’s hard to describe the perfect hook with words, but suffice it to say that nearly every song here has that sublime ability to punch one right in the aural stomach, the place directly attached to your foot-tapping and singing-in-the-shower nerves.
This isn’t a perfect record, as made evident by the annoyingly repetitive title track or the way things sort of tail off by the last two songs, but it’s leagues ahead of your average indie pop album, and it’s certainly Rogue Wave’s best effort yet. Their ability to turn what would have wrecked many bands into an unfettered success is Permalight’s
biggest triumph, and the listening experience is just as enticing a treat for the listener. More than anything else, though, Permalight
stands out as a life-affirming testament to the human spirit, a collection of songs that come off as just so incredibly happy, so goddamn upbeat
, that it’s impossible not to fall in love with it, with everything.