A new decade seems like the perfect time to change things up a bit and start fresh. For a band like Rogue Wave, whove spent most of the time keeping a low profile with excellent but sparse records (now four in the past seven years), its the perfect time to try a new direction. Nothing drastic, just subtle tweaks in style to see if a slightly new sound could work, and it almost does. The introverted melodies and catchiness are all still there, but the guitar work has been scaled back. What once were simple layered guitar rhythms have mostly been turned in for more uniform chord changes and, for a couple tracks at least, an electro facelift. Permalight is a fine fourth record, but it leaves one question, is this a rock band reaching for overdue pop success, or is this genuine desire for a fresher start?
The album opens with the delightfully strummed pop of Solitary Gun. Automatically the mood is lighter, even though the lyrical themes are just as dark and reflective. The track twinkles with soft blips and a bouncy melody that shows a little more of Brushfires [Records] influence. That easier feel is what defines this record, with romantic eulogies like Ill Never Leave You strumming and clapping on your heartstrings. Theyre 12 songs to sway and bounce too, leaving the Sub Pop days of Descended Like Vultures twinkling in the background.
While electro special effects litter the record, Good Morning is the only track to go for the dance rock gusto. Its the first outright dance song theyve done really, complete with a drum machine, shiny guitars, and a pulsing synth hook. Its very out of character even though they throw in some of their old psychedelics and note bends as they circle around the blown out chorus. In the end, it lacks real substance, and feels more like a stab in the dark than a Rogue Wave song. The album’s titular track gets in on the dance fun as well, but it too feels ill fated, as it sounds like more of a reaction to the current scene, as opposed to something honest.
Really, thats how the album plays through, but is it indeed a last ditched effort for success, or is it the sound theyve always been after? After all we have excellent tracks like Sleep Walker and We Will Make A Song Destroy scattered around to give you something to hold onto. The latter would fit in perfectly with Asleep at Heavens Gate, as it builds up to the catchy crescendo for the last minute that makes it all worth it. Stars and Stripes shows what happens when the new electronics are used well with blips and beeps behind the fast rattles of the cymbals and surf-guitar riffs. Songs like those show the kind of positive growth that you would want to hear from this band, and they fit in with the best they have to offer.
After seven years and two record labels, maybe this is the sound they were always after. Truth is, theres a fine line between quality and filler, and many tracks on Permalight straddle it. That being said, the record is consistent from start to finish, and by the final songs they seem to pick up right where the last record left off. Rogue Wave has always been a solid post-rock band, and they managed to find a niche early on that has since been recycled throughout the indie rock community. With their sound now standard thanks to everyone else, you can see why they would do what they did. Unfortunately you just end up with a mediocre record held together by a few genuinely solid tracks. Rogue Wave was there for the start of the indie rock explosion, and by all accounts they should be one of the greats, but with Permalight, they still seem to finding what their all about.