Environmental destruction, greed, suicide, and watching your elderly mother die may sound like strange topics to plumb for optimism, but that's exactly what Oakland's Rogue Wave manages to do on its latest album, Asleep at Heaven's Gate. An exquisitely crafted slice of pop that harks back to the days when you looked forward to entire albums taking you on an exotic head-trip, Asleep bathes you in other-worldly sounds while keeping you grounded in the real world (read: problems) and lifting you into a kind of ether of hope.
Clearly drawn to dour subject matter, singer Zach Rogue cites as inspiration an NPR broadcast that featured a guest talking about the experience of being at his mother's side as she passed away. Intrigued by what the person described as both horrible and beautiful, Rogue decided to explore dualities on the new album, a decidedly darker turn for the band, which, not incidentally, has recently endured mortality close to home and even lost the first two weeks' worth of recording due to technical failure at the recording studio. After such an inauspicious (false) start, the band retreated to its own recording facility to get down to the business of pushing through obstacles and, well, delving into the dualities that have taken hold of Rogue's attention lately.
Rogue and his bandmates, who now include former Beulah bassist Patrick Abernethy, attempt and succeed at turning eco-crisis into an anthem on "Lake Michigan," examining suicide on "Christians in Black," and even exploring the abstract ambiance of film composer Wendy Carlos, who scored appropriately dark films like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron. Oh, and Rogue doesn't forget about garden-variety inadequacy, either, which he pulls inside out on "Chicago x 12" so that it becomes, for the listener, a vehicle for self-upliftment.
Rogue Wave is scheduled to perform on Thursday, January 17, at Tempe Marketplace. The show scheduled for Tuesday, January 22, at the Rhythm Room has been canceled. Refunds are available at point of purchase.
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Musically, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more dualistic combination of agreeable — even sweet — sonic elements combined with such sobering strains of life-experience. Asleep at Heaven's Gate is "adult contemporary" rock in the truest sense of the term, an offering from a band taking uneasy (yet stridently purposeful) steps into grown-up reality while keeping its eyes fixed on what Rogue describes as a crumbling society. If that sounds heavy — or like something you want to run a mile in the opposite direction from — playing the record provides levity in perhaps the most authentic sense of the word: Asleep at Heaven's Gate might lull you to sleep, but it was written to animate your dreams.