We get a lot of submission requests here at Plug from self-published bands who want to send us their CDs for review. There's a reason why we don't post our address anywhere on the site: we generally don't want these CDs, because we really don't like to spend time trashing CDs on this site. We'd prefer to post mostly positive reviews and tell you about good new music that you should go out try. And by and large, the unsigned bands that want to send us their CDs are not going to get good reviews from us.
But every now and then, we stumble on a little gem of an album from a unknown band, and "Out of the Shadow", by Bay Area newcomer Rogue Wave, is just such an record. The easy comparison is to call it this year's "Oh, Inverted World", the idiosyncratic pop debut from The Shins that won over critics and audiences alike in 2001. Both bands hail from cities not normally known for their music scenes (Rogue Wave from Oakland, CA; The Shins from Albuquerque, NM), the sound of each group mines a heretofore undiscovered vein of modern pop, and both albums grow on you after the first listen, quickly becoming mainstays in the rotation.
While "Out of the Shadow" might not have singles as sad and compelling as "New Slang" and "One by One All Day" from "Oh, Inverted World", overall the album is much stronger, with cleaner, more consistent production and a natural flow to the tracklist. "Every Moment", the album opener, launches with frontman Zach Rogue's perfect pop tenor over a bleating interplay between two guitars that seemlessly expands into a studio's worth of instruments building on the same circular, cascading riff. "Nourishment Nation" also begins with a cyclical acoustic guitar sprinkled with tinkling chimes, although it's a much more propulsive song than the opener.
These two songs set the tone for the rest of the album, in which the songs often begin with ornate but minimalistic acoustic guitar riffs that follow a circular structure on top of which the rest of the song is built. But it would be wrong to say that all the songs sound the same, despite a coherent sound to the record and some structural commonalities shared between many of the tracks. The songs are like streams emanating from the same wellspring: they may share the same creative source, but each meanders and winds through the musical landscape in its own distinctive fashion.
The one weakness on the record might be "Falcon Settles Me", which at best sounds a little out of place compared to the other tracks and at worst sounds like a cheesy parody of 60s-era eco-bonding (I can't stop myself from thinking about the terrible SNL skit "The Falconer" when I hear it). The last track, "Perfect", is also different from its siblings, but in a good way: instead of the warm, clean production found on the rest of the album, we are greeted with distorted guitars and voices that sound like they were recorded on a four track in someone's basement. But for the song, whose lyrics consist mostly of the same phrase repeated over and over ("Everything was perfect til you came along"), the sound is, well, perfect.
The real accomplishment of "Out of the Shadow" is its seeming simplicity masking a complicated and engaging structure that reveals new patterns during each listen, like a dew-dappled spiderweb that reflects the sun in different ways every time you change the angle of your gaze even slightly. It's easy to lose yourself in the layers of intertwined vocals and instruments, but you always find yourself humming along once you emerge from the trance-inducing labyrinth of melodies of the songs.
Even though "Out of the Shadow" was only released a few months ago, the band has already started to record songs for its follow-up at David Fridmann's infamous Tarbox Road studios, where such indie pop luminaries as the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Sparklehorse have recently recorded. Given the strength of their debut, Rogue Wave may also soon find themselves keeping company with those bands on the critics' best-of lists.