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Rogue Wave – Nightingale Floors

on June 05, 2013, 12:01am

More than three years removed from 2010’s letdown PermalightRogue Wave’s garish foray into synthesized electro-pop, singer/songwriter/guitarist Zach Rogue is framing Nightingale Floors as something of a comeback. Although Permalight debuted respectably at #149 on the Billboard 200 — Rogue Wave’s highest chart positioning to date — this nascent pulse was short-lived; sales fell off quickly and sharply before languishing at a disappointing 21,000. Given that svelte predecessors Asleep At Heaven’s Gate and Descended Like Vultures had each moved more than twice that many copies, dismissing Permalight as a misstep wasn’t much of a stretch.

Looking to revamp their sound and shake things up a bit, the Oakland quintet ditched Hawaii-based label Brushfire after two albums (equaling their brief tenure with Seattle’s Sub Pop) for Santa Monica, CA purveyors Vagrant Records. According to Vagrant exec Dan Gill, the label is committed to positioning Nightingale Floors “to succeed and create as many opportunities as possible.” An early example of Vagrant’s strategy is the appearance of “No Time”, recorded during the Nightingale sessions, on the soundtrack of $1.14 billion mega-blockbuster Iron Man 3. Now if that doesn’t position the stalwart band for commercial success, it’s hard to say at what could.

Seeking to attract new fans by commercializing their tunes is nothing new for Rogue Wave. Over the past decade, the emotional indie rockers have earned a few extra bucks and reached some fresh ears by licensing their songs out to a litany of TV shows (Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Nip/Tuck, Scrubs, The O.C.), films (Just Friends, Spiderman 3, Friends with Benefits), and commercials (Microsoft, LG).

The results have been largely positive, as Rogue Wave has been able to establish a core of dedicated fans that supported the band through some excruciatingly tough times. While drummer Patrick Spurgeon was battling kidney failure and Rogue was recovering from a near-paralyzing neck injury in 2007, the band’s former bassist Evan Farrell died of “massive smoke inhalation” during an apartment fire caused by an old furnace. Rogue was dealt another blow when his father passed away, which provided the inspiration for Nightingale Floors cathartic closing cut “Everyone Wants To Be You.”

Though Nightingale Floors is a somewhat inconsistent effort, Rogue Wave nonetheless manage to convey an unabashed and unguarded sentimentality that warrants a listen. And with producer John Congleton (The Walkmen, Modest Mouse, David Byrne, St. Vincent) chipping away at that bloated wall of synth weighing down Permalight, the band channels a commodious, airy vibe that allows their tracks to build and breathe, rather than muddle and clutter.       

Take lead single “College”, which kicks off to the tune of 64 gentle drumstick clicks and a glittery, gliding keyboard. Deftly transitioning from peppy, triumphant indie rock to a sluggish, ambient purgatory as the track winds down, Rogue murmurs and mourns of lost identity: “Can’t find my own/ I can’t find, I can’t find.” Building with a blend of synth and guitar, “Siren’s Song” pairs the singer’s punctuated vocal delivery with quick time signature shifts and overbearing bursts of drum and bass. Atop an unsteady sea of feedback, Rogue counsels us to leave our troubled histories by the wayside with his crisp, sweet head singing: “You see what I see/ Nothing left to talk about!”

Unfortunately, the LP’s back end is little more than superfluous filler. Limp, drab cut “The Closer I Get” never really gets off the ground, while the prosaic and bland “S(a)tan” lingers on for far too long. Both songs are difficult to endure, as is “Used To It”, a instrumentally repetitious and lyrically monotonous dud (“Used to/ I’m used to it, oh oh/ Used to it, oh, oh,/ Used to it”). And the most generous thing that can be said of awkwardly harmonized, schmaltzy “When Sunday Morning Comes” is that it’s one of the album’s shortest cuts.

Finishing strong with the dreamy “Everyone Wants To Be You”, Zach Rogue’s impassioned vocals yank at the heartstrings. Championing liberation from life’s parasites and posers alongside a delicate foundation of electric guitar and controlled distortion, Rogue purrs: “And now you’re taking a break from who you are/ And the leaches, and the spiders, you’ve turned on/ They’re just faces, and placed, they’re wrong.” Following nearly a full minute of silence, the singer bids a touching farewell to his late father (“you’re always a friend of mine”) as the LP fades out.

Dubbing Nightingale Floors part “primal scream therapy” and part “exercise in letting go”, Zach Rogue positions the LP as more of a spring cleaning than a creative leap forward. And that’s exactly that what Nightingale Floors feels like: scraps of previously unaddressed anguish, contrasted by speckles of perseverance, propped up by a truthful testament to the healing power of song. It’s by no means Rogue Wave’s seminal work, but it manages to come off as an honest and hard-earned statement from a band that’s been dealt more than their fair shares of blows these past few years. That’s got to count for something.

Essential Tracks: “College”, “Siren’s Song”, and “Everybody Wants To Be You”