Brushfire Records, 2011

I really like Zach Rogue, and I’ve been a Rogue Wave fan since Descended Like Vultures hit indie music listeners’ ears like the gentle slap of a thousand feathers (it doesn’t rock out, but it doesn’t sit still either), but I fear we may be too far into “wuss rock” territory here. The fact that this album was released on Jack Johnson’s label kind of speaks for itself, and there is very little on the album to suggest the music is attempting to break away from that particular bit of pigeon-holing.

Of course that doesn’t make Rogue’s solo project, published under the name Release The Sunbird, bad, or even unlistenable. In fact, far from it. The first couple songs suggest a throwback sound to some of Rogue Wave’s best work; strong acoustic guitars and brightly harmonized melodies. The opening track even reintroduces a hefty organ, recalling the brilliant Asleep At Heaven’s Gate as opposed to the more recent electronic and experimental Permalight. And the title track follows with similar leanings of this classic material, and both cuts end quickly, two and three minutes respectively, leaving the listener sufficiently nostalgic without much pause for thought.

But the album digs its hole and stays there. The longest song maxes out at just over four minutes, none of the music stretches past the acoustic guitars and cutesy arrangement formula, and none of the songs are particularly inventive. It also skates past the introverted brooding that made Rogue Wave’s earlier music so indulgent and remains fairly upbeat throughout the record.

To reiterate, it’s not unlistenable. There’s a lot of pretty stuff here to enjoy. “Outlook’s Anonymous” and “A New You” are peaceful and tender; the album’s first single, “Always Like The Son” exhibits bright, expansive songwriting. And there isn’t any music on the album that’s wasted, each cut seems to have gotten the full Rogue treatment of top-notch studio production without sounding hallowed-out from too much editing, maintaining the personal feel and genuine spirit of his music.

Part of my musical evolution lately has simply turned me off to music that’s too wimpy, for lack of a better term. There’s folksy and there’s wussy, and somehow, Zach Rogue minus the band lacks enough clout to bridge the gap. There’s actually more here that draws from the whisper-soft folk of bands like Kings of Convenience than older Rogue Wave. And that sort of music has its place, but it doesn’t prove as durable to me as some of its more rugged contemporaries. Especially when, as on Come Back To Us, it’s so demonstrably unoriginal.