Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Desperate" - Rogue Wave

Like every other bearded white male my age writing about music, Nick Hornby was one of the people who first turned me on to the idea of writing about music. Sure, High Fidelity got me hooked but it was a first printing of his Songbook, complete with CD, given to me by a friend of my father's that really turned me on. In it, he has an essay about the difficulty of being a Rod Stewart fan, going from The Faces to good solo work to the crime against music (taste?) that is "If You Think I'm Sexy". At the time I didn't really process what Hornby was talking about. I was just getting into music and I started with the big names: The Beatles, Bod Dylan, the Pixies, The Clash. These were icons who seemed to be bottomless fonts of musical genius. 

I remember the first time a band I truly loved let me down in a big way. It wasn't until my senior year of high school when, I was sure that after two throat-clearing albums, my geek rock gods, Weezer would finally return to form. Instead, they gave me Make Believe. **Cough, cough** Yeah.

Rogue Wave was another band to slowly Rod Stewart on me. I first heard them through their Celtic-tinged cover of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" on the excellent Stubbs The Zombie Soundtrack and soon fell in love with them after seeing them open for Inara George and Nada Surf. My entry point for their music was their second album, 2005's Descended Like Vultures. This was Shinsy indie pop at its best. A Death Cabbish blend of rainy Northwest Pacific guitars and catchy melodies. I couldn't get enough and I also quickly devoured their more acoustically-minded debut Out Of The Shadow. The problems began when they debuted on (gulp) Jack Johnson's Brushfire label with Asleep At Heaven's Gate (and let's not even talk about last year's major label Permalight). It was clear that songwriter Zack Rogue was starting to stray from the intimate, quirky songwriting that established him as a force and shoot for the back row - at a U2 show.
Despite my dislike of Heaven's Gate, I never lost faith in the band's abilities and a big reason for that was their early 2008 Daytrotter Session. It showcased Rogue Wave playing stripped down versions of new songs, revealing that beneath over produced gunk on the album, the group was still making gems. But the truly breathtaking moment in the session was the otherwise unreleased "Desperate."

"Desperate" is one of those songs that creates it's own aural world that you can, in Tommy Womack's words "wrap around you like warm sonic blanket." It comes tinkling in with pretty electric piano over a soft bed of bass and subtle hi-hats. Suddenly an echoplexed guitar chimes softly leaving nothing but space and a slow piano figure. Finally, after drawing out the silence, the drums enter, only they're so muffled and distant that they serve as much a textural as rhythmic function. The guitar and piano are joined by a single bell as the song glides forward for over a minute. Before vocals even appear, Rogue Wave makes you feel as if you're floating underwater.

The song's gauzy delicacy is at stark odds with its lyrics, a fact which is easy to overlook because they go down so smoothly. Rogue gives the impression that he uses only just enough effort as necessary to get each syllable out as he sings four verses which consist of an opening line repeated thrice and a closer. The singer appears to be being driven to desperation from losing the woman he loves. "Have I gone desperate?" he thrice asks his love before turning towards himself. The song is more an incantation of woe than a story and it ends lyrically unresolved with the singer still wondering if he's "gonna fight for what is mine? / For the first  time?"

I remember listening to this song as part of a mix I made for the month long period during my junior year in college before my study abroad program started but after all my friends were either back in school or already overseas. It was a snowy January in Chicago and I was at loose ends, thousands of miles away from my friends and girlfriend. I needed sweet, sad music to match the blizzards and the boredom and the dull loneliness that comes from feeling like you're running towards something important but can't quite get there.

In short, I needed this exact song. And there is was. Thanks, Rogue Wave.

Desperate - Rogue Wave  Download the Daytrotter Session.

5 More Rogue Wave Songs You Should Hear
1. Every Moment (From Out Of The Shadow)  Buy it.
2. Postage Stamp World (From Out Of The Shadow)
3. Catform (From Descended Like Vultures)  Buy it.
4. California (From Descended Like Vultures
5. Eyes (From The Spiderman Soundtrack)

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