Rogue Wave, Descended Like Vultures

Rogue Wave, Descended Like Vultures

If the reference point for Rogue Wave’s sunny one-man show Out of the Shadow was the Shins, then for the paradoxically dense and weightless near-psychedelia of Descended Like Vultures, it’s the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Like the Flaming Lips (and the rest of the canon of moneyed pop acts), Rogue Wave approaches recording with ambition and the big ideas to back it up, but unlike them, Zach Rogue doesn’t yet possess songs or performances of enough character to match that ambition. Like hesitant line drawings overlaid with sheet after sheet of decorative tissue paper, Vultures‘ songs virtually disappear beneath the record’s gossamer overproduction. It often sounds like Rogue is so focused on making a perfect pop record that he is afraid to let the songs stand forth on their own, simple and naked.

Rogue treats his own voice with what sounds like a surprising lack of confidence, obscuring most of his lyrics with a haze of gauzy slapback and multitracking, an especially cavalier choice for someone who is fundamentally a songwriter. The lilting “Catform” is, lyrically, a mystery, and “10:1,” which I believe has a good idea at its heart, is nearly incomprehensible. It’s difficult to tell how much of a tragedy this is; lyrics on tracks like “California” (“Screw California and friends who are never there … and ice that will never melt, from hearts of the modern and children of Cicero”) and “Bird on a Wire” (“Geriatric at twenty years old / Break like a matchstick as soon as you’re told”) hint equally at literate, introverted delicacy and lack of inspiration.

“Publish My Love,” clearly one of the record’s high points and quite deserving of the magical #2 slot, gives the impression of a conflation between songwriting and production value. On the other hand, the lush and chaotic bridge of “You” is a perfect fit as a counterpoint to the song’s delicate verses. And yet even here, Rogue’s voice is doubled, distancing the listener and damaging the song’s beautiful intimacy. It sounds almost as if Rogue is afraid to let the listener hear what his voice really sounds like, a suspicion given credence by “You”‘s successor, the album’s quiet coda, “Temporary,” in which Rogue barely murmurs on top of an acoustic guitar, as if he is afraid to drown it out.

Here another reference to the Flaming Lips is warranted: if one were to go back to the early days of these psychedelic pop darlings, one would find Wayne Coyne yelling at the top of his lungs, frequently losing control of his voice, but belting it out nonetheless, reveling in the joy of a song and a rock band, lacking the psychedelia and the fancy production but making great records nonetheless. Rogue Wave has to learn that before one can make a rich, lustrous pop record great, one must have the ability to write great pop songs and the (over)confidence to let them stand on their own. Before there could be a Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, there had to be an In A Priest Driven Ambulance; before an Achtung Baby, a War; before a Sergeant Pepper, a Meet the Beatles. And so before Zach Rogue can truly make Descended Like Vultures, he has to first make Rogue Wave.

(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA. 98121;; Rogue Wave --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, February 21st, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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