On their first two albums, Rogue Wave quickly made a name for themselves by putting out that kind of flawless acoustic indie-emo every guy in a college dorm with a guitar dreams about writing. An apt comparison for the band’s original sound could be something along the lines of a lower-fi Shins, but it’s probably closer to a less polished and more interesting Death Cab for Cutie. Their first two albums drew some positive critical eyes but never enough buzz to help them transcend the traffic jam forming in the wake of their forefathers’ breakthrough.
A band pieced together when it’s frontman, Zach Scwartz (now named Zach Rogue), found himself suddenly jobless and, as a result, directionless, Rogue Wave was quick to try and innovate its way out of stasis. Their next two offerings mined both cheesy, melody-driven power pop (Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, by far their worst effort) and confused Radiohead emulation (Permalight) to pretty much prove, above everything, that neither of these were the sound meant to change their fortune.
This leaves us with Nightingale Floors, their fifth and most recent release, which pretty much goes in every imaginable direction in hopes of finding the correct one. While there is no particular organization to it all, most of the album’s tracks can be placed into a handful of groups that better explain just what exactly Zach Rogue is trying to accomplish (or, at least, what I think he’s trying to accomplish. It’s almost impossible to understand what exactly is going on here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
The groupings are fairly straightforward, though they appear out of order. First we have “No Magnatone”, “The Closer I Get”, and the very strong “Siren’s Song”, which are songs built up from a foundation of ambient sound, all of which is quickly tightened with typically unexciting, bare-bones riffs. If the guitars were cut here, and Rogue were left to roam in the gloomy, if a little more melodic, ephemera, these tracks could serve as a solid compass for what, at the moment, feels like a flailing band.
“College”, “Figured It Out”, and “S(a)tan” make up the second setting Nightingale Floors reaches. Careening into territory well dominated by Michael Benjamin Lerner’s project Telekinesis!, these three tracks are the albums weakest, slipping dreadfully down with the ghosts of Rogue Wave’s better left forgotten Asleep at Heaven’s Gate. Songs like these should just be left behind.
Then there’s “Used to It”, “When Sunday Morning Comes”, and the hidden track (whatever that means in the digital age) “Everyone Wants to Be You/Ready, Steady, Go”, songs that are all grouped together because they are the most innocuous of the whole collection. Even if “Everyone Want to Be You” has some qualities of a few early Rogue Wave slow jams, all those parts were scrapped so long ago that the similarities are probably just a coincidence or muscle memory. There’s certainly nothing to dislike about these songs. The problem is that there’s not much to get excited about, either.
It’s something of a surprise, though not completely shocking, that the best song on the album is also the most straightforward. The only song that doesn’t fit into any of the above groupings is the truly terrific “Without Pain”, an acoustic lament that’s the closest thing Rogue’s ever come to living up to those James Mercer comparisons. It’s certainly a head-turning moment that makes up for most of the albums’ inconsistencies. Zach Rogue is a solid songwriter. It’s too bad he’s just figuring that out now.