Aside from 2010’s synthy, poppy, goofy Permalight, all of Rogue Wave’s albums have been generally consistent and enjoyable. Led by Zach Rogue, The Oakland natives have developed a knack for the kind of smart, vibey indie rock that music supervisors just can’t get enough of. They may not have achieved the same level of notoriety as contemporaries like The Shins and Spoon, but with countless film, TV and ad placements (most recently on the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and the Apple iOS7 campaign), there’s a good chance that their music has reached your ears at some point.
However, along with their success, the band has suffered a fair share of adversity. Prior to Permalight, Rogue suffered two slipped discs in his spine that rendered him paralyzed for months, drummer Patrick Sturgeon battled kidney failure, and former bassist Evan Farrell died of smoke inhalation during an apartment fire. More recently, Rogue’s father passed away during the recording of this record.
On Nightingale Floors, their first release on Vagrant Records (after two on Brushfire and two on Sub Pop), Rogue Wave look to return to form while reflecting on the past ten years, examining the present and looking toward the future. The album deals with recurring themes of life and death, inner peace and happiness.
Opening track, ‘No Magnatone,’ with its marching snare and steady build is classic Rogue Wave, albeit with a larger, more expansive sound thanks to producer John Congleton (Modest Mouse, David Byrne, St. Vincent). Throughout the record’s 10 tracks, the production is spacious and rich without being bloated. Similarly to the composition, it is a more fleshed out, grander version of that found on 2007’s Asleep At Heaven’s Gate and 2004’s superb debut Out of the Shadow.
On coming-of-age anthem, ‘College’, the band hops and swings loosely before segueing into a slow pulse that eventually fades. The transition is at once smooth and effective; subtle as it is drastic. ‘Figured It Out’ is an optimistic take on what’s to come, with strummed acoustic guitar, fuzzy synth, and a mix of electronic and acoustic drums driving forward as Rogue sings in a relaxed, complacent tone, “I know I’m gonna be so proud.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to find the same level of success. ‘Siren’s Song’ trudges along, trying to rock, but never quite hitting the spot. The dreamy, slow-burning ballad, ‘The Closer I Get’ provides a perfectly-placed lull, but leads into a series of utterly forgettable tracks.
‘S(a)tan’ is lazy and droning whereas ‘Used To It’ is little more than a placeholder. ‘Without Pain’ is a boring attempt at a stripped-down folk song that goes absolutely nowhere. As soon as it begins, it is over, and at no point does it move me. ‘When Sunday Morning’ continues in the same vein. Forgettable.
It isn’t until the last track, the ‘Everyone Wants to Be You’ that Rogue Wave regain the momentum that they build on the first half of Nightingale Floors. The epic song churns along slowly and surely as Rogue’s voice emotes over cavernous drums and fragile guitars. He sings, “I know you’re taking a break from who you are/And the people you used to play with, they are gone,” before his voice gives way to a climbing piano, swelling guitars and wall of feedback. The noise builds and builds until it all falls away, leaving only the guitar remaining.
The album closes with a hidden track that finds Rogue singing in a falsetto over a strummed acoustic guitar. It is simple and straightforward, providing a much-needed sense of closure.
Nightingale Floors is far from a perfect album. There are few spectacular moments, and plenty of filler. But while it may not be a huge progression from their earlier work, it is an earnest release that is easy to listen and relate to. Despite its flaws, Nightingale Floors stands on its own as yet another solid release from a band that is growing and ageing gracefully.