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Monday, September 17, 2007

Rogue Wave: "Asleep at Heaven's Gate"

Rogue Wave released their second album (and first as a true band), "Descended Like Vultures" in late 2005 to little fanfare or notoriety. It was a bit disheartening to me, because I was a huge fan of it as well as their debut. To see such a great album go by without anyone really making a fuss about it was a shame. In an interview with the band that was published around the same time, Zach Rogue acknowledged that some fans thought they had sold out because the album was harder, louder. But Zach defended the band by saying that the music was them, and just because it sounded different did not make them guilty of selling out. He even tossed out the idea of the band making an electronic or hip hop album, because it would be "exciting" and "challenging." Perhaps that's why it's so disappointing to concede that "Asleep at Heaven's Gate" is middle of the road indie rock from start to finish. The album is not bad by any means, it just hasn't met my expectations.

To be honest, I never expected to hear a Rogue Wave hip hop album. What I did expect was for the band to take some risks as they had done with "Descended Like Vultures." That album clearly showed a growth in the band from Zach's "Out of the Shadow" days. Songs like "10:1" and "Love's Lost Guarantee" were so perfectly constructed and executed, that it was hard not to be impressed. Though still well-written and decently composed, "Asleep at Heaven's Gate" shows a band that's either having trouble moving forward, or just playing it safe.

That's not to say that the album isn't worth listening to, however. Zach Rogue is still an excellent song writer and the band still works well together. "Lake Michigan," for example, is classic Rogue Wave; plastered with layers of lush guitar sounds. Zach's smooth vocals move in and out of coherency as they always have, and it all sounds great! Likewise, "Lullaby" may start out sounding like a 1950s love song, but it soon evolves into perfect piece of indie rock with infectious electric guitars complementing the steady strumming of an acoustic. As much as I criticize the band for not taking as many risks this time out, I must admit that it's nice to hear the band make a few throwbacks to their old sound. "Christians in Black" is another great song, sounding like it could've been a hidden track on "Out of the Shadow." It's a must-listen for any long time fan.

The album's second half has a few notable tracks, and shows the band trying a few new things here and there. "Missed" walks a fine line between "beautiful" and "boring," ultimately achieving neither. It's minimalistic composition is squandered by all the reverb the band insisted on throwing in, and I would've much preferred the song without it. "Fantasies" starts off sounding way too much like The Shins' "New Slang" for me to take it too seriously. The melody lacks any staying power and the hook of "Every day's a fantasy. Are you with me? Are you with me?" is truly forgettable. To be fair, it's one of the few places on the album where the band sounds like they are trying to branch out, it just doesn't work out the way it should have. "Phonytown" ends up sounding much better, and the band finally shows a little bit of progression from their last album.

Rogue Wave is one of my favorite bands, and "Asleep at Heaven's Gate" was one of my most anticipated albums of 2007. Maybe that's why I'm so disappointed by what I've heard. The album seems incredibly front-heavy through track 6, and never really regains it's appeal until 11 or 12. For a band who has put out two relentlessly impressive albums, the fact that there are tracks here that I know I'll end up skipping in a few weeks is a bit saddening. If you're a long-time Rogue Wave fan, pick it up and decide for yourself. There are definitely enough good songs on this album to justify a purchase. If you're new to the band though, I highly recommend going back and checking out "Descended Like Vultures" or "Out of the Shadow" first. Rogue Wave was bound to slip up sooner or later. The fact that their "slip up" is still better than most run-of-the-mill indie rock bands out there today should tell you a lot about how great this band really is!

Key Tracks:
1. "Like I Needed"
2. "Chicago x 12"
3. "Lake Michigan"
4. "Lullaby"
5. "Christians in Black"

6 out of 10 Stars

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