Descended Like Vultures
isk isn’t the best game for honing your sense of geography. It splits the continental United States into two regions: Eastern and Western, though I’d argue the major indie-rock labels do pretty much the same thing.
When you get an album from Matador (East) or Touch and Go (Midwest) or Sub Pop (West) you tend to presume some things before the disk even touches the laser of a player. Rogue Wave and their second album Descended Like Vultures are as delightfully left-y as anything in Sup Pop’s catalogue and sprinkled with moments of Laurel Canyon production and expectedly pastoral acoustics.
The music on this album, much like this year’s anticipatory EP 10:1, is worn-in California pop, juiced with paisley guitars who sizzle more than thrash. There’s plenty of love too; the straight-ahead, personal pop boulders like “Bird On A Wire” are crisp and earnest.
Lead singer/guitarist Zach Rogue uses a quietly stained Elliot Smith-bleat and matches it up with terse acoustic guitars. This product is dusted with the salt of the Pacific, cold winters in San Francisco, and a refreshingly fresh pallet of soft/loud ennui. How else could they string together chants of “Are you on / My side?” or legitimately title a song “California,” and play it straight?
But even someone who shies away from the Yo La Orange County left-coast rock will find plenty to admire here. The songs are soundly emotive without being hungry and “universal.” The carnival organ and galloping drums on “10:1” don’t announce themselves with bombast. “Publish My Love” (rubbish title notwithstanding) subtly pushes Rogue’s spoken-word-metric wail under big, evenly produced guitar fuzz. It’s the most aggressive song on an acoustic, enduringly enduring set of small-ball rock songs.
Descended Like Vultures snuggles down between Wolf Parade’s Apologies To The Queen Mary and Modest Mouse’s 2004 release, Good News For People Who Like Bad News as a competent, half-slapped together, half-methodic slice of evolved indie-rock. Not as rural and weathered as the former, not as pushy a grab-bag as the latter (though all three albums do have mystifying, undergraduate titles).
In a wide-eyed way that really only west coast bands can pull off, Descended lines up all of their output—the playful alongside the unsuccessfully dense—with no regard to what should go where. It’s not that the album is sequenced badly, but it’s almost as if the band wants us, the listeners, to sequence it for them. Shuffling the order of tracks doesn’t prop up any emotions or themes or kill any “album” concepts.
You just know Rogue Wave has the appeal and acceptable stylistic tips-of-the-hat to hit the O.C.-band steeple chase. They’re Sub Pop. They’re charming. And most importantly, they’re a band of modest presentation and candor (even in their missteps) to the core. If everyone is so worried about which bands are going to “sell-out” (read: being played as a soundtrack to Ryan Atwood punching someone), we could do a lot worse than Rogue Wave.