BY JOHN SCHACHT
These days it’s pure analog-thinking to believe a time-capsule should have at least a quarter-century in the ground before we crack it open and marvel at the weird shit people used to get up to. Case in point, Nightingale Floors, the latest from Oakland, Ca.-based Rogue Wave, a turn-of-the-century historical glitch in today’s indie music world.
On Rogue Wave’s last release, 2010’s Permalight, Zach Schwartz (a.k.a., Zach Rogue) seemed like he was combating the band’s increasingly anachronistic sound, and the record veered awkwardly between their familiar guitar-based indie and a new-found dance-pop. Up-tempo rhythms and overwrought synth textures collided uncomfortably with fuzz and grit and the occasional acoustic ballad, and the whole thing suffered as a result.
With that in mind, Schwartz’s 10 new songs, with their straight-ahead reliance on guitars and canyons of reverb, reads like a redemptive primer on late-90s/early oughties indie. You can hear Beulah’s melodicism in opener “No Magnatone” and see, with a minimum of squinting, the Shins’ “New Slang” in the acoustic “Without Pain.” Smile-era Jayhawks lurk in the soaring twang pop harmonies and swirling keys of “Figured It Out,” and with its explosive choruses and reverb tunnels “Used to It” comes off like an extra track from Band of Horses’ debut. Hell, Nightingale Floors even has a hidden song on the back end of swaying disc-closer “Everyone Wants to Be You” —how quaintly CD-like!
Unlike most of today’s bands mining the past for inspiration, Schwartz and company actually grew up musically in the era they’re channelling and more often than not deliver the goods here. Pulsing rocker “S(a)tan” may be a simple hate song, but its mammoth chorus decrying Stan and his “anger information” is a real earworm and nearly as addictive as “Figured It Out.” And “College,” the first single, has to be the most emblematic track. Fuelled by churning guitars and cavernous drumbeats, Schwartz’s wistful admonition that “you cannot acknowledge/all the things you’ve done in college” comes attached to an enormous hook and with the grown-up knowledge that looking back carries a cost.
The past informs us, in other words, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. The impotence of railing against it is a theme running through a lot of the record, and in the case of Nightingale Floors, coming to terms with the past has freed Rogue Wave to turn in what might be their finest work.
DOWNLOAD: “Used To It” “S(a)tan” “College”