Rogue Wave’s fourth release, the wildly inconsistent Permalight, demonstrates the band’s continued schizophrenic experimentation. On this auditory outing, the band mixes its soulful, acoustic side (which it does quite well) with its unfortunate electro-pop side. The album goes back and forth between these two aesthetics anxiously, as genres switch not only in between tracks but sometimes within the structure of a single song.
Rogue Wave, normally trading in a rainy, Northwestern pop vibe (think Modest Mouse or Death Cab for Cutie), incorporates new instruments into the mix this time around. The band’s previous sound, layered with electronic keyboards, explores variations from basic rock structures to a more expanded instrumentation with mixed results.
The band gets into trouble with the murky melodies of “Stars and Stripes,” where terrible, clichéd lyrics like “I wish you were it” are coupled with a boring pop-rock riff. But while the band’s sonic experimentation with varied styles often fails to pay off, Rogue Wave is still unrivaled at delivering sparse, stripped-down songs. One of the album’s best is “I’ll Never Leave You,” a mournful ballad notable for its playful lyrics, like “The past is just dead / A thousand monkeys in my bed.” Elsewhere, the band’s lyrical strength and sincerity can be noted on tracks like “Fear Itself,” which delivers political commentary about the war on terror. Just try and ignore the lead singer’s Ben Gibbard-aping vocals.
The band’s eclectic tracklist on Permalight does yield a couple surprisingly enjoyable (though remarkably fleeting) moments, like the electric guitar groove of “Stars and Stripes.” At times, the band is already switching modes by the time you can appreciate the lick.
The song that illuminates the album best is the self-consciously titled “All That Remains,” a one-minute acoustic farewell and rebirth that I’m hoping doesn’t imply a development further away, but a more patient and seamless blend than the shabby patchwork the band has awkwardly sewed together on Permalight.