Rogue Wave’s debut album Out of the Shadow was full of memorable songs, all of which you immediately forget. It remains the type of album that you say you love but forget to listen to until someone, probably a guy like Zach Braff, mentions that he likes it, and then you play it and enjoy it for a few days and put it on the shelf and forget about it, unless another someone asks you if you’re a fan of Rogue Wave and then you say you are. None of which means that album isn’t any good. It’s above serviceable—it’s just that it’s that kind of indie pop that works great for one-offs (unless you’re on Flying Nun and it magically becomes fantastic).
Led by another Zach (Rogue, of course), but with more influence from the band that formed around last year’s tour and stuck around, Rogue Wave sets out to make a disc that you’ll not only like, but remember. By and large, they succeed on Descended Like Vultures, and they do it by getting bigger without losing any of their intimate charm.
It won’t get the attention of single “10:1” or album-opener “Bird on a Wire”, but “Publish My Love” epitomizes what the band does. The track opens with electric guitars just a little too noisy to jangle, which drop out for a smooth, quick verse. Rogue’s voice stays steady as the band fills back in for the chorus, and the guitars return to full force immediately afterward. The shifting sounds add more texture (or at least a rockier texture) than you might expect. The structure repeats enough to catch in your head (and the chorus is just several announcements of “You can never publish my love”), but the transitions, as well as the fluctuating lyrical parts, keep it interesting and lead logically to the song’s closing climax.
Rogue Wave uses this sort of techniques to fill their album with quality songs. “Catform” alternates mood more than texture, remaining dark throughout, and “Love’s Lost Guarantee” brightens the sonics just slightly, but adds some overdriven guitar to keep an edge. These kinds of small touches make the poppier hooks of the album more engaging, and stickier than the tracks on Out of the Shadow.
Songs like “Love’s Lost Guarantee” also show that Rogue Wave has a harder side. “Bird on a Wire” hints at this side of the group. It begins with a sunny little riff, but adds vocal effects on the last syllable of each of the verse’s lines, drawing the phrase out and creating easily-released tension. The noises and effects continue as Rogue sings a fine melody. The production teeters on overbearing, but doesn’t tip over, allowing the track to fill with sound but not to overflow.
The other noteworthy song, “10:1” comes out strong with a driving organ part. Pat Spurgeon drums like it matters, and the song keeps its groove while getting messier and messier until finally disintegrating into noise and bells at about the 2:30 mark. Rogue’s clean vocals are repeated after being fed through effects, tipping us even closer to the edge of chaos the album hints at throughout.
That borderline anxiousness lends the album some heart without taking away from the charm continuing from the debut. Descended Like Vultures still has its moments of pleasing, ephemeral pop, but those moments, if nothing else, work as nice interludes between the more engaging numbers. They’re not truly filler, though; each song on the album has been well-tended. It’s not a masterpiece, but this album’s certainly not one you want to forget either.