Descending like a wave

“You could never publish my love,” sings Zach Rogue, holding back and then softly placing the notes on top of a floor tom/snare beat, acoustic guitar and gentle distortion. And then the introduction to the verse kicks back in ?” a triumphant, rising sway of snare rolls, gorgeous synthesizer and well-placed, off-time cymbal crashes. It’s as close to perfection as a pop song can reach. Sweet and charged while still remaining challenging and unpredictable.

Rogue Wave’s Descended Like Vultures, released this week by Sub Pop, is possibly the best pop-rock album to come out in years. Building off of the foundation that their debut, Out of the Shadow, established, this time around the band explores and takes command of a musical terrain that is now full and realized.

“We tried to show restraint when we needed to, to understand as a band where we needed to play and where we could sit out and let a certain part work for itself,” Rogue said. “We all put in our two cents and just tried to determine what worked where and why. It’s the push and pull of songwriting.”

It’s nowhere better seen than in “Love’s Lost Guarantee.” The track opens up with an echoed-out, dissonant, picked-note pattern in 2/4 on electric guitar. Eight seconds later, amid a slowly building hum of noise, another guitar line begins, this one in double time, chiming. Soon harmonics appear, creating a double melody. And then Rogue’s vocals climb into the picture. Doubled, panned and slightly treated, his voice is soft and melodic, full of intention. The melody in his vocal line counters the music that is flowing underneath it. “Then you go for your one shot, to where you are,” he explains. And then, just when you think that you have the song figured out, a jagged synth line is introduced, bridging the verse to a nearly-symphonic chorus. “Oh, what you need. So guarantee,” Rogue sings in the form of a plea, amongst a beautiful swell of quick, electric chords.

“I’m really into using a collage of recording equipment.” Analog tape, ADAT, Pro Tools, 4-track. And the idea is that, in the end, it will all just sound way more organic, for lack of a better term. And that’s what we tried to go for on this record. We wanted every song to have its own sound and its own feel and its own structure,” Rogue said.

On Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave has, without question, succeeded. Vultures is an album that manages the impossible. It’s catchy and hummable without being contrived. It’s thought-out and well constructed without being overwrought or dry. Rogue is able to toss out insightful lines like, “Love comes like the Kennedy curse. The victim role was well rehearsed,” on top of strikingly original layers of joyous pop. And as a band, Rogue Wave now presents a serious challenge to the droning myriad of their more widely recognized contemporaries. Songs like “10:1” and “California” deserve to be heard, memorized and sung, anthem-like, much more than do the songs of every other hot-band-of-the-week that now dominate and fog-up the airwaves.

“It all comes down to the feeling and the meaning and the creativity that is inherent in the two. You know, on a song like “Temporary”, which was written in 10 minutes and probably cut in an hour, I was feeling really isolated at the time that I wrote it,” Rogue said. “I was in New York City and I just didn’t want to be there anymore. But we captured it on tape and now it’s on the record. It’s out there and it can be heard and enjoyed. It’s a good thing.” 

Rogue Wave plays at Berbati’s Pan Nov. 17 with Kelley Stoltz and Climber