Zack Rogue notably sang “Screw California” on Rogue Wave’s last album, but that was a lie—2005’s Descended Like Vultures was shot through with Cali sunshine, bright as candy and limitless with pop possibilities. Proving themselves adept at crafting huge, surging choruses, Rogue Wave sounded familiar (maybe the Pixies with a softer edge) and somehow new at the same time. Asleep at Heaven’s Gate now continues that same kind of expert carnival of noise, even as its songs are longer (six of the 12 creep over five minutes) and flirt with jam-band explorations. Oddly, though, it feels like a step back.
Oh, there’s still unvarnished beauty on display: The pneumatic hand claps that propel the ringing “Lake Michigan” are a masterstroke, and “Fantasies” never wants to begin, but then hits with a guitar hook that bores straight into your skull. Yet when the band searches for a groove on the onset of “Harmonium” or the twilight of “Phonytown,” the results sound particularly disconnected and distractingly small. Rogue’s breathy tenor means that over half the lyrics are buried, which isn’t bad, actually, since what’s audible doesn’t really seem interesting. The exception is the vulnerable “Christians in Black,” a solo acoustic number that underlines its melancholy about being “born and raised to be alcoholic” with trembly echo. No sunshine here, thankfully.