The advance press about Permalight, indie-pop band Rogue Wave's fourth album, was that this was finally going to be an upbeat record from singer-songwriter Zach Rogue. And although it's always good to hear that an underappreciated talent has made a "happy" album, the news struck Rogue Wave fans as odd: Were their other records really that sad? From the beginning, the band had been known for two things: romantic folk-rock ditties and the blazing sweetness of Rogue's voice. And while he may have been singing about heartbreak and family dysfunction, the songs' melodic uplift was so potent that his albums always felt restorative rather than dispiriting.
So, if the "this album is less of a total bummer!" advertising hook isn't entirely accurate, what distinguishes Permalight from this Northern California group's earlier records? For anyone who's loved Rogue Wave since the band's 2004 debut, Out of the Shadow, the new disc's most notable characteristic is that it continues the group's evolution from an acoustic, one-man-in-his-bedroom aesthetic to a fuller band sound. It's true that Permalight is easily the band's most pop-centric; Rogue's voice remains a ringing, emotive beauty that grounds the songs in the sensitive (although never, ever "emo") school of indie-rock introspection. As for those reports about sad-eyed Rogue turning sunnier, well, he is and he isn't. He's still trying to see how much grace he can wring from sadness — never more so than on "I'll Never Leave You," where he serenades his newborn with all the optimism that he can muster. "I'll never leave you/ I'll never be like that," he vows, before adding, "I'll never be the one I was in life," which is a wonderful articulation of the resiliency that imbues so much of Permalight's cautiously hopeful essence.
Rogue Wave plays Tuesday, July 20, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; with Gamble House.
Tim Grierson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.