My incredibly-long-and-involved Review of Permalight by Rogue Wave.
You’ll like it if you like:
REM circa Monster and Automatic for the People
Previous Rogue Wave Albums
Bob Dylan’s lyrics circa Blonde on Blonde
Tegan and Sarah
Death Cab for Cutie circa Plans
Upon first listen I was actually giddy and damn near drove off the road. This is exactly the album that I had hoped for from Rogue Wave, but had also hoped to hear in a deeply personal way that I wasn’t even aware of. This feeling is very typical of my relationship to Rogue Wave and all music Zack Rogue has made. Even though they lost one of my favorite band members, “Golden” Gram Lebron, I believe this is the perfect follow up to the widely successful TV soundtrack favorite Asleep at Heaven’s Gate released in 2007. While some common criticisms of the band are still present (overly repetitive choruses, unintelligible lyrical lines) they are underplayed and scrubbed up so that the band is still clearly making the music it feels is best they are also aware of the marketability of their new tracks. This album is far less anthem-y than the previous one, but has kept a lot of the bigness they found in that. It’s like Asleep is the night, and Permalight is the morning.
Track by Track:
1. Solitary Gun: Starts like a slow sad drippy song but knocks you out of your stupor with one of the catchiest guitar rhythms known to man. Zack’s mellow melancholy voice easily glides over the raucous drums and driving guitar. The album is front loaded with easy picks for singles, which makes sense. These are the songs that are the most catching and you want that in the beginning of an album. The lyrics are classic of Rogue Wave, cryptic but relatable. Even if you have no idea what he may be singing about, you know for sure what it means to you. The bridge is a perfect burst of joyful pop bliss with a solid breakdown in the middle. A fantastic break through glass sort of song, a song that wakes you up out of whatever you were doing before. Unignorable and a great promise to make at the beginning of an album.
2. Good Morning: This was the first song I heard off this album and in its low-res free download version it got me very worried. Album side, though, it holds up a lot better. This is a departure for the classically non-drum-machine based band, but it holds up enough to the cannon to be solidly placed in the album. It’s a great choice for a first single because it’s danceable while not dance-hall. The song is, to me, about being a disdainful youth but it doesn’t allow itself to fall in to despair. It’s energetic and ready to take on all the things that have made the singer disillusioned. Here starts the subtle through-line of love songs, new to this band which has typically strayed from deliberate references to love and women. Marriage and babies among the band have clearly broken this line. I love the lyric “directions to your house were demanding/now I’ve got security/I long to have your hair fall around me.” Very Rogue Wave, very catchy. The whole song is radio friendly in a way the band has never been.
3. Sleepwalker: Typical of the last three albums, track 3 is a serious tempo and mood shift. Cryptic, slightly creepy, and I am not completely sure what this song is or is not about. There is a gun, there is money being suck suck sucked down, and there is a purposeful voice crack. This song sounds like it could easily be tossed on to the track list of 2005’s “Descended Like Vultures and fit right next to “Love’s Lost Guarantee” and “10:1.” This is not to say it’s not a solid tune, very typical of Rogue Wave cannon, a good reminder of what the band sounds like and a good way for someone to whom this album is the first Rogue Wave they’ve heard or purchased to connect to earlier albums. This album is full of throw backs like this, as if this is the culmination work of the band encompassing all the musical forms and moods they’ve experimented with so far, along with some new ground.
4. Stars and Stripes: This song could also easily have been slapped in to Asleep at Heaven’s Gate and fit right in. Honestly, even though it sounds so similar to that album, I am so happy this song is here. First, it’s awesome. Second, it’s a firm reminder that this band is getting more marketable and radio friendly but is not losing the sound we love so much. It’s also distinctly brighter than anything on Asleep, a common point to all of these songs.
5. Permalight: Another dancy digitalized sound that makes me excited to see these guys live again (April 9th in Portland, April 10th in Seattle. Go.) An easy third choice for a single, after “Morning” and “Solitary Gun”. This song follows a more experimental sound with clamour edited to begin and end abruptly and multiple layers of Zack’s unmistakable voice harmonizing over laser sounds and classic acoustic rhythm guitar. This makes sense as a title track as it pulls the album together and sort of crystallizes all that is different about this album than any previous recordings. It’s upbeat, dancy, electric and sunshiny. But still cryptic, multilayered, and original. My bet is they close out the concert with this song.
6. Fear Itself: The only thing I do not like about this song is that he repeats “can you feel the fear itself?” about 5 too many times. Other than this, the song has a fantastic build with strong bass and drums moving to soft syncopated claps and of course Zack’s vocals just dripping across the top. His plaintive plea “don’t go without me” is so full of innocence and love you forget he’s a grown-ass man with a wife and child. The song is about (again, to me) facing the fear of meeting and connecting with someone you are ready to be with forever. It’s terrifying and while the only thing to fear is fear itself, that doesn’t mean that fear isn’t there. I love the lyrics and the rapping drums. The song builds and builds momentum with small breaks for acoustic/vocal pairings but it stays in constant motion. Rhythm is highly experimental but unfortunately a lot of the build-up doesn’t carry it all the way through the repetitive end where it plateaus with all instruments and Zack in a loop that is just 3 measures too long. But with repeated listening this seems shorter and shorter and perhaps will eventually fade.
7. Right With You: A near seamless transition from the last song, Zack’s voice hits all of its classic slides and dips that we heard in 2004’s Out of the Shadow. This is another song I like to call a cannon song because it would be included in any mixed CD you would make trying to explain what this band sounds like. I love the bridge, it starts with a muted plucking guitar and some faint vocal “oo’s” that is then knocked off with the highest energy of the song, a perfect way to go out. It ends abruptly just like it should.
8. We Will Make a Song Destroy: The title alone should make you love this song. This could have come out of the recording session for Descended like Vultures as well, but still persists with the slightly sunnier sound. It’s not specifically recognizable as one element or another but the song, while bitter and angry at times, is brighter overall and more joyful. It follows a heavy-soft-heavy-soft framework much like “Bird on a Wire” and “Publish My Love,” which were the songs that made me fall in love with Rogue Wave. I love the whole idea of a song that could destroy a thing, an idea, a relationship, a paradigm. It’s more of an ideological song, not focused on the personal, more on the cultural. Solid drumming as usual from Pat Spurgeon, the only other one besides Zack to be in the band this long.
9. I’ll Never Leave You: Quickly becoming my favorite song on the album because of the layers of emotional complexity. It’s catchy, as well, and sounds similar to something off of Out of the Shadows. This is a song for fans of “Eyes” or “Sightlines”, non album tracks that have had some soundtrack success. The song is part about husband-wife love, and also strongly about father-daughter love. Zack Rogue welcomed his first child in 2007, the same year his father died, and this song seems like a tribute to a multitude of complicated relationships brought together by one simple fact, “I’ll never leave you.”
10. Per Anger: The first few measures of this song sound like REM circa Monster but then it breaks in to classic Rogue Wave. Plus any song with the lyric “festooned in edelweiss” is a winner for me. Solid clappable sing along, I expect to be invited to chant along during the live show. This song seems to me to be about the paralyzing effects of anger. Anger that sets you in to stubborn immobility. It’s also delightfully short and to the point, which is needed at this point of the album.
11. You Have Boarded: Immediately tougher and distinct from the other tracks, this song feels a bit like “Phoneytown” from Asleep but could be more applicable to occasions not in LA. Perhaps a warning to people becoming close and finally seeing the worst parts of you and your family, or perhaps an invitation to accept one’s place in the actual world of grown-up life, it certainly lights a bit of a fire under your ass. This song makes you want to take full stock of everything around you. It’s got a rollicking bass line and sounds much more jam-y than songs on other albums. This is a lot more like what they sound like live, which is great to hear captured on disc.
12. All That Remains: Short, sweet, poetic. A perfect example of Zack Rogue’s lyrics and ability to make the cryptic relatable. Emotional and powerful, I wish this song lasted longer but I know I wouldn’t like it if it did. It’s the perfect end song to a well rounded and completely addicting album.