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July 14th, 2004 Mark Baumgarten, Richard Shirk | Album Reviews
 

Rogue Wave / Low

     
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Rogue Wave Out of the Shadows (Sub Pop)

Rogue Wave

Out of the Shadow

(Sub Pop)

Pure and unfettered by collaboration, San Francisco's Zach Rogue has created an album filled with pop tunes that carry the weight of the genre's history while being buoyant enough to transcend most of this year's honestly not-too-shabby rabble. The album has actually been around since 2002, when Rogue took a brief respite from the Bay Area psych pop band Desoto Reds. He headed to New York and recorded what would become Out of the Shadow, playing almost all the instruments himself. He promptly quit Desoto Reds, formed Rogue Wave and released the album on his own label, Responsive Recordings. Now, nearly two years later, the album is seeing a wide release on Sub Pop, a part of the label's recent shift to a gentler pop sound, ushered in by the Shins and Iron & Wine. If Sub Pop is attempting to corner the market on excellent pop songsmiths, it's found a gem in Rogue. Bouncing around the influence map from Guided by Voices' Bob Pollard to Paul Simon to Brian Wilson, the leadman commands attention with intricate songcraft and an ear for just the right combination of instrumentation. "Nourishment Nation" is a wonderful piece of start-stop guitar pop that incorporates the Moog elegantly, while songs like the whisper-thin "Be Kind & Remind" and the jazzy "Kicking the Heart Out" are straight ramblers with slight electronic flares and handclaps used sparingly and effectively. Each song has a distinct personality thanks to Rogue's multi-instrumental expertise. It's probably a good thing the album's been out for two years; it has given his band time to catch up with him before the hordes of indie-poppers catch on--which they will. (Mark Baumgarten)

Low

A Lifetime of Temporary Relief Box Set

(Chairkickers Music)

Low has made a career out of existing in the narrow space between boredom and beauty. Even after a decade, the Minnesota group's pulse still beats at an arctic pace, the guitars still sound like a rattling chain-link fence and the whispered songs sounding like retooled hymns. Spanning the entirety of the band's existence, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief is a collection of more than four hours of B-sides, live tracks, rarities, videos and documentaries fit onto three CDs and one DVD. Like a drawer full of snap-shots, A Lifetime is an awkwardly candid look at the band as it wobbles through early demos, rare favorites, and well-meaning, Low-ified Beach Boys, Wire and Bee Gees covers. A handful of songs like "David & Jude" or "Don't Drop the Baby" are inconsequential enough to have been left in the vaults. But for every dud, there are dozens of outtakes, B-sides, or 7-inch singles like "Walk You Out" or "Joan of Arc" that are just as rife with emotional desolation as anything from flawless Low LPs like Trust or Things We Lost in the Fire. But what makes A Lifetime a confusing listen is that in its attempt to highlight the arc of the band through its rarest songs, the collection reveals that there is no true arc. After spending a few hours listening to A Lifetime of Temporary Relief and trying to think of what Low has done besides rewrite the same haunting album about loss, faith and vulnerability, one can see the source of A Lifetime's monotonous tone. Walled in by the constrictions of its own style, the fine line Low is walking is not only precarious but also predictable. (Richard Shirk)

 
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