Emerson once wrote, When it is darkest, men see the stars and he might as well have been penning a poem for Rogue Wave. Last year was a rollercoaster ride for the foursome drummer Pat Spurgeon had a kidney transplant, keyboardist Gram LeBron lost his father, singer Zach Rogue had a daughter and the band recruited a new bass player (Patrick Abernethy, formerly of Beulah). But instead of falling apart, they converted all their heartbreak, love, hurt, pain, elation and insight into a most affecting and beguiling record, Asleep At Heaven's Gate. Produced by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney, Elvis Costello) with Zach Rogue and recorded in Forestville, California, Asleep At Heaven's Gate was derailed two weeks into the sessions after technical problems mis-pitched a majority of the early tracks. Refusing to be defeated, the foursome decamped to their studio in Oakland, CA where they spent days salvaging what they could, rerecorded some tunes and laid down overdubs. The results are worth it, because Asleep At Heaven's Gate finds the band at their most accomplished.
For indie musicians, success--even the modest variety that Rogue Wave has experienced--can be disastrous. A band that once spent years squeezing quality tunes out of 4-tracks and cheap gear suddenly has extra resources, and the more polished product misses the charm of the ramshackle original. On Asleep at Heaven's Gate
, band leader Zach Rogue and his mates are in jeopardy of going down this familiar path, having spread a layer of amped-up, rock-god oomph over the top of their once understated approach. Rogue has grand ambitions, as RW's soaring previous effort, Descended Like Vultures
, made clear, and he can write fat, gorgeous hooks that partner well with an increasingly strident sound. And so, for much of Asleep
, his melodicism throws enough of a charge into the music that you don't notice how overstuffed it often is. The quieter, more humble tactics of their brisk and beautiful debut, Out of the Shadow
, make the occasional cameo appearance; "Christians in Black," for instance, floats a buttery Rogue vocal over a simple and lovely acoustic riff. But songs like "Harmonium" and "Lake Michigan" are the real templates here, shoegazer-level dreamy and cranked to 11. Accordingly, a certain bloat creeps in as the record goes on. A simple ditty like "Ghost" becomes an unnecessarily puffed-up epic, while half-formed songs like "Phonytown" turn into empty filler. But even though it runs out of gas, Asleep
probably creates enough momentum to propel Rogue's band closer to their stadium-filling ambitions. That won't be of any consolation to those who miss the ragged edges of their earlier work, but it makes the record vital enough to satisfy the rest of us. --Matthew Cooke