Rogue Wave: Permalight

RIYL: Nada Surf, Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins

Fans of alternative pop/rock band Rogue Wave know that their music can be somewhat of an acquired taste, just like the Shins or Death Cab for Cutie. But therein lies a big reason for their success. The music won’t instantly grow on you nor make you instantly tired of it. Instead, Zach Rogue (who has a soft tenor a la Josh Rouse) and his band mates make the kind of music that should have staying power on your master play list. Rogue Wave’s latest, Permalight, is a departure from previous work, though it’s not exactly easy to pinpoint just why. Maybe it’s because Rogue suffered a couple of slipped discs in his neck in late 2008, which rendered him unable to move and scared him into believing he had a life-threatening illness. Eventually the swelling went down, and he regained enough feeling in his hand to be able to play the guitar. Many of the songs on Permalight are noticeably bouncier and happier than what one would expect from Rogue Wave, but the quality of songwriting is definitely still there.


If you like upbeat alt-pop, you’ll find the jangly “Solitary Gun” or “Stars and Stripes” to your liking. But if you favor the darker side of what made you love Rogue Wave, “Sleepwalker” or the acoustic driven “Fear Itself” will suit you more. Then there is the total oddity of the title track or the robotic “We Will Make a Song Destroy,” which shows Rogue Wave becoming more experimental. One thing is for sure, though; many of us are glad that Rogue is okay and that Rogue Wave is still making music. (Brushfire/Universal 2010)

Rogue Wave MySpace page


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Broken Bells

I caught up with Broken Bells here at Stubbs since they followed Jones with an 11:00 PM set. The new band from the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse was definitely one of the most buzzed about. This probably comes from the fact that the Shins have quite simply become one of the most influential bands of the 21st century’s first decade. The Broken Bells sound a lot like the Shins, frankly, due to the distinctive voice and talent of James Mercer. But there’s less guitar and more keys and samples, triggered by Mr. Mouse on drums. The band has a groovy if laid back sound that seemed to hold the crowd’s attention fairly well. “Vaporize” and “Mongrel Heart” both have that classic Shins-y vocal from Mercer over a Shins-y type of groove, which seemed to resonate. The last two songs also featured more guitar, which helped build the energy some more, with Danger Mouse also playing guitar at the end over a sampled beat. It wasn’t the dazzling set that SXSWers have come to expect from evening showcases at Stubbs, but this is a new band, so it’s only logical that they might need some time to develop. There’s definitely some potential here, though.


Broken Bells: Broken Bells

RIYL: Danger Mouse, The Shins, Beck

The latest collaborative project involving the seemingly indefatigable Danger Mouse (billed here under the name his mama gave him, Brian Burton), Broken Bells presents the music press with its first opportunity for hype overload in 2010. One half of Gnarls Barkley teaming up with Shins guitarist and singer James Mercer? Are you kidding? This album doesn’t have a prayer of being reviewed objectively – which is probably why Burton and Mercer kept Broken Bells under wraps until late last year, when they digitally released the album’s first single, “The High Road,” to thunderous online applause.

The full-length is finally here, and here’s the bad news: None of it’s as deliciously addictive as “The High Road.” On paper, Broken Bells looks like the type of album that’s so cracked it either has to be terrific or abysmal, but in reality, it’s just sort of a pleasant listen – which is ultimately disappointing, because if nothing else, you expect to be provoked by any project that places its creative principals in unfamiliar surroundings.


Broken Bells, though, keeps the listener at arm’s length; like a lot of Burton’s work, there’s a coolness about it that starts to feel pretty chilly after a while. The production is undeniably interesting – this is definitely a headphones record – but all the swirling, blooping synths, distortion effects, and layers of ghostly sound can’t obscure the album’s lack of an emotional center. This probably sounds harsher than Bells deserves – it isn’t a bad album at all – but with this much talent in the studio, who wants to award partial credit?

Listening to Bells’ third track, “Your Head Is on Fire,” you’re struck by the beautiful emptiness of it all – spectral vocals floating between stacks of synths and subtle guitars, with Beach Boys harmonies unspooling around sonar sound effects. Problem is, that’s the record in a three-minute nutshell: Sweet pop melodies and a musically adventurous spirit, drowned mercilessly in a sea of frictionless sound. Broken Bells is a pretty enough place to visit, but don’t plan on staying long – or if you do, bring your warmest winter coat. (Sony 2010)

Broken Bells MySpace page


Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Is…Awesome!

RIYL: Old school hip hop, hipster bands, your children

Anyone who was lucky enough to snap up a copy of 2008’s here-today-gone-yesterday Yo Gabba Gabba! CD will likely be disappointed with Music Is…Awesome!, the newest release of songs from the TV show that’s a hit with both kids and stoners. Eight of the 13 tracks from the previous release are here, along with songs from the Shins, Chromeo, Of Montreal, I’m from Barcelona, and Money Mark. That’s a whole lotta hipster, right there, and the decision to include the hipster bands over acts that actually had our kids singing along – there is no excuse, for example, for the exclusion of the Aggrolites’ “Banana” or GOGO13’s fantastic ska tribute “Pick It Up” – is a curious one, to say the least. Then again, the soundtrack supervisors had positively tons of bands to choose from (The Bird and the Bee, the Ting Tings, Mates of State, Jason Falkner, MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, Datarock, the Clientele, etc.), not to mention original songs (“Hold Still,” “Please, Thank You”), so it stands to reason that they were going to leave some essential YGG moments out. Be that as it may, Music Is…Awesome! is good, but not quite as awesome as it could have been. (Filter/Fontana 2009)

Yo Gabba Gabba MySpace page
Click to buy Music Is…Awesome! from Amazon


Jupiter One: Sunshower

RIYL: The Silver Seas, The Shins, The Feeling

Not to be confused with Jupiter Rising, the California duo who received a rather harsh, but fair, beatdown from our own Jason Thompson in 2006, this New York indie pop quartet brings the hooks by the truckload on their sophomore effort Sunshower. The heart of a late ’70s pop band beats at their core – check the cymbal ride, handclaps, and Moog solo in the super-cool “Simple Stones” – but they’re not hiding behind a gimmick. They’re like an American version of the Feeling, comfortable in the present but having more in common with rock bands of the past. “Flaming Arrow” would have fit perfectly on the Silver Seas’ album High Society (itself a brilliant modern-day slice of AM radio heaven), while the power popstastic “Anna” sounds like a lost song from an ’80s soundtrack (starring John Cusack, of course), and “Lights Go Out” recalls a more restrained Foo Fighters.

What this means is that Sunshower will be adored by soundtrack supervisors around the world, but will need a “Garden State” moment in order to break the band into the mainstream. This isn’t right or fair, but this is the music business we’re talking about; half the bands that sell millions don’t deserve it, and vice versa. Sunshower is one of the vice versas. (Rykodisc 2009)

Jupiter One MySpace page