Rogue Wave
Out of the Shadows

Responsive / Sub Pop
2003/2004
C



he rapid march of technology killed off lo-fi almost as quickly as it birthed it. Once 4-track recorders became cheap and widely available, a few pioneering artists like Sebadoh and Smog decided that what began as demos were actually finished product. The next logical step was to not only accept the inevitable sonic limitations of the medium, but to embrace and fetishize them. Static and tape hiss were pushed to the front of the mix not only on Guided by Voices' basement tapes, but even more notoriously on the studio recordings of Pavement. Then before you could say "Debris Slide", home recording went digital. Nowadays your Tascam has a hard drive, and any lonely warbler with an iBook can record Pet Sounds II in his or her kitchen.

Eight years ago or so, Rogue Wave would have been lo-fi. There would have been hums and pops, and the songs would have shone through the rough surface in bits and pieces. But, this being the 21st century, the sound is gone while the aesthetic lives on. Rogue Wave signify lo-fi on their debut album, but it could have been recorded in a state-of-the-art studio or a friend's attic, for all the listener knows. All of the trappings of bedroom recording turn up, but the details are perfectly audible.

Head Wave-r Zach Rogue brings the classic bedroom artiste's lyrical solipsism to his songs, with all the good and bad that implies. In "Postage Stamp World," the album's most affecting melody is applied to a bitterweet lyrical opening that tempers a touching picture of divorce from a child's perspective with a quick laugh:
Ever since Mom walked out
Sis and I can get no sleep
Since then Dad's brought home thirteen redheads
A blonde, a brunette and a sheep
The joke works because the contextual imagery is strong enough to bear it. Later in the song, when Rogue sings "You can all get in line / And lick my behind" it doesn't work because there's no genuine emotion to ground it. Granted, it fits with the child's-eye view established earlier, but it's right at the melodic turn in the middle of the chorus without any immediate surrounding narrative to support it.

Elsewhere, the lyrics range from self-pitying sentiment (“I don't mind if you treat me badly / I don't mind if you've got no love to give") to abstract non-sequiturs ("The metalheads, the market research... The beady eyes on every teacup") to cloying cuteness ("What makes the wild wind whistle? / What makes the birdies sing?"). They're mostly pleasant and harmless, and work well as raw materials for Rogue's elaborately double-tracked harmonies, but there's nothing else nearly as evocative as "Postage Stamp World"'s images. The album could have used more of that vivid scene-painting.

The band began as a solo project for Rogue following his departure from San Francisco's Desoto Reds, and it shows in the arrangements. The songs are mostly simple and acoustic guitar-based, and clock in under two minutes, saying what they need to and ending without much fanfare. The few songs on which the newly-formed (and apparently now permanent) band stretch out a little provide the album's strongest moments. Hopefully, as they spend more time playing together, they'll develop this aspect of their style further, making the songs sound more like the product of an actual band. On many of the songs here, the accompaniment sounds like an afterthought, adding to the bedroom-recording atmosphere. A random assortment of instruments (old synths, glockenspeils, slide guitar; is that a didgeridoo in "Seasick on Land"?) wander through the background, trying out harmonies without quite committing to the song.

Musically, the mood remains dark throughout the record. Most of the songs are in a minor key, and even a major-key chorus like the one in "Endgame" turns to a minor chord in the last bar, leaving a lingering tension to hang in the air behind it. But the band save it from getting too bleak. The album climaxes with its darkest melody, while the band turn in their best performance yet. As they tear through the all-out rave-up of "Endless Shovel", one is left hoping that it might be a taste of where they're headed on the next album. If you listen closely, you can even hear an extended electric guitar workout buried in the mix. This is followed by two acoustic fragments, the second of which threatens to close the album on a positive note before adding a bitter twist. "Everything is perfect", Rogue sings several times, then follows it with "'Til you came along."



Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph

Reviewed on: 2004-08-12

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