Review ·

Oh, to be laid-off in San Francisco. Nothing is quite like having the government support you in such a beautiful place. In 2002, Zach Rogue, the driving force behind Rogue Wave, found himself in a similar situation after getting laid-off from his Web design job. The difference between the two of us is that I'm fairly content with my bi-weekly check and a quasi-religious dedication to Jeopardy, but Mr. Rogue got antsy; he headed out to New York to record a couple tracks with a friend to let loose. Things went better than planned; Rogue left the Big Apple with an album's worth of recordings to which he later added drums and more instruments, and -- oh, hell, let's just spoil the suspense -- it's damn good.

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The album isn't unorthodox in its scope; it's mostly acoustic guitars (though a couple of electrics drop by) with the help of some keys and a few electronic sounds for ambience. What sets this album apart from other indie-pop records is Rogue's unique skill with odd meters and rhythms. At first listen, many riffs sound a bar too short, like they would be better off being sampled and chopped up by Scott Herren. But everything adds up once Rogue's wispy voice enters the equation. His songwriting is deceptively complex and strikingly distinctive -- a massive compliment in my book.

Everything here is designed to keep you guessing. Opener "Every Moment" gets jerked around by drums that start and stop and change pace. And, oh, that beautiful chorus. A steady rhythm mugs the gentle handclaps of "Kicking the Heart Out" about halfway through, and yet it still remains a delicate tune. A few fully acoustic songs remain, and even without sugary pop fuel, they stand strong while resonating '60s melodies. Rogue's sense of humor prevents things from getting too heavy: "Ever since Mom walked out, sis' and I can get no sleep/ Since then Dad's brought home thirteen redheads, a blonde, a brunette and a sheep."

Rocking out is no problem, either. "Endless Shovel" relies on a relentless, almost bluesy riff, and comes at a perfect point in the album sequence to slap you back into motion. Only in the album's closer, "Perfect," does Rogue seem content to let vague simplicity rule. It's only a two-and-a-half-minute song, but the last half is mired in repetition, ending the album on a sour note.

Luckily, in the age of technology, we can just hit "play" again and be serenaded with Rogue's superb pop gems. Which I suppose means that the difference between me and Rogue go a bit further than motivation. He's a fantastic musician; I can pretty much only play "Wish You Were Here" and the riff to "Come as You Are." But he might have inspired me to get off my lazy, unemployed ass and at least try to do something creative. Yeah, that's what I'll do! I'll dust off my guitar, set up a couple mikes, and ... oh, hey, look! Jeopardy's on!
 
CLICK HERE to check out Rogue Wave's homepage with MP3 streams...

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