Once John Lennon came along and told us he was a walrus, the jig was up. Obfuscation became communication, and nonsense made perfect sense -- as long as the drugs held out.
Thirty-five years later, such surreal lyrics carry less impact. For every great track like Guided by Voices' "Tractor Rape Chain," there's an inane lump like "Skin Parade" (by, um, GBV). Luckily, on Rogue Wave's debut LP, Out of the Shadow, main man Zach Rogue makes sure to back up his impenetrable couplets ("When the falcon settles me/Then I know I'm right") with hearty riffs and catchy vocal melodies.
Recording most of these twelve tunes himself while on sabbatical from local indie rockers Desoto Reds, Rogue layers strummed acoustic guitar with judicious electric runs and bright keyboards, coming off like a scruffier version of early-'90s buzz-band Swell. The Bay Area songwriter particularly shines on the ballads, recalling Elliott Smith's loping ennui on tunes from "Be Kind and Rewind" to "Kicking the Heart Out." There's also genuine emotion -- and a dash of humor -- on the pedal steel-driven "Postage Stamp World," in which a son complains how his recently divorced father has brought home "thirteen redheads, a blonde, brunette, and a sheep."
Actually, the album is riddled with references to poor family situations, from a mom's "new bag of squalor" to a sister's habit of self-mutilation. As Rogue says on the jaunty "Every Moment," he's "inspired by the things that are upsetting." After listening to Out of the Shadow, you may not know exactly what disturbs Rogue, but you'll sure sing along.
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