Events surrounding the band known as Rogue Wave made it onto Treble’s news section more than once this past year – i.e., the news of Pat Spurgeon’s critical kidney problems, the band’s jump from Sub Pop to a new record label founded by none other than Jack Johnson, and the announcement of a third full-length album. And the follow-up from these news items are as follows – Spurgeon was able to receive a new healthy kidney due to successful fund-raising and support from friends and fans, the band has seemingly made a smooth transition to Brushfire Records, and Asleep at Heaven’s Gate is yet another lovely and intelligent release from the Zach Rogue-led quartet. All in all, despite hardship, the band has emerged in 2007 after a brief hiatus having not lost the trademark Rogue Wave charm.
With the band’s third effort, Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, the majority of the tracks are amazing, perfect, beautiful, etc., while the remaining few are somewhat unexceptional. For some, this might be enough to make the claim that Rogue Wave’s move to Jack Johnson’s record label was a step in the wrong direction – however, it’s more than enough for me to be entirely pleased with the new release from the Oakland, CA band (and interestingly enough, I’m actually sitting in an Oakland coffee shop as I write this review). Lucky for me, I now have a flurry of new songs that I’ll revisit again and again; in fact, I’ve had songs one through six on repeat for the past few weeks.
Asleep‘s best tunes encapsulate everything that’s great about Out of the Shadow and Descended Like Vultures, as they’re explosive with infectious melodies and delightful pop songcraft. Rogue Wave kicks off the new album with the lengthy “Harmonium” and “Like I Needed,” which are dreamy, soaring numbers that fellow indie poppers Band of Horses didn’t quite manage to accomplish on Cease to Begin. “Chicago X 12” and “Lullaby,” with bold guitar work and sweeping vocals, are wonderfully evocative of Built to Spill’s poppier work, while “Christians in Black” takes Nick Drake’s style of subtle, nimble guitar picking and creates my personal favorite soothing number of the year. “Lake Michigan” is a masterpiece, featuring an aerial melody augmented by exuberant strumming and fearless percussion, which by itself could put most of the Shins’ Wincing the Night Away album to shame.
You and I may not personally be members of the cult of Jack Johnson, but this is not reason enough to disregard Rogue Wave’s new album as a protest against the existence of JJ’s Brushfire Records. Asleep at Heaven’s Gate represents a creative and mature step in the right direction, and while it’s not perfect, songs like “Lake Michigan” and “Christians in Black” are so supremely excellent that I can’t help but maintain my excitement about the band’s continued efforts.