It’s impossible to think of Zach Rogue without Rogue Wave. He changed his last name from Schwartz to Rogue for Pete’s sake; and Rogue Wave’s debut, Out of the Shadow, was essentially Rogue himself. It’s no surprise, then, that Come Back to Us, the debut of Rogue’s year-old solo moniker Release the Sunbird, is a departure but also a return to form. Disillusioned after touring with the rest of the band, Rogue escaped to a friend’s recording studio in Bloomington, where he recorded Come Back to Us. The album bears Rogue’s signature yet versatile voice and simplistic guitar-driven arrangements that recall his eponymous band’s first album with the occasional grand gestures of Rogue Wave’s later work.
Rogue’s secret weapon is female vocalist Kate Long, who sings on most of the album’s tracks. The two ebulliently harmonize on “Running Away From Me” and “Paper Allies”, and their hypnotic canon on “Everytime You Go” evokes the sadness of a couple splitting up. When Rogue sings by himself, softly backed by the delicate guitars on “Always Like the Son” and “A New You”, he channels 70’s British folk artists like Nick Drake. It sounds more natural to him than on “Back Strikes Back”, when his tenor hews closer to Ben Gibbard’s and the song itself could be a B-side on Descended Like Vultures. Bittersweet “We’ll Begin Tomorrow” almost fails to rise above the standard minor chord-driven emotive fare, but the quickening rhythm and intermittent growling guitar licks save it.
The album’s beginning and end tracks recall Rogue’s departure from Rogue Wave and hint at a probable return after his stint as Release the Sunbird. “It’s All Around You” sounds like a B-side from the full band, with its slow build and tremendous organs. Similarly, closer “Outlook’s Anonymous” showcases familiar keyboard sounds and sluggish rhythm, along with a chilling round between Long and Rogue that brings the album full circle.