The best song on Rogue Wave's sophomore album, Descended Like Vultures, is the nearly six-minute opus "You," with its steady drone, swells of emotion, and running mumbled commentary on how the right partner can save a man from self-absorption. Zach Rogue's basic approach to song arrangement is to alternate shimmer and pummel, taking dreamy melodies and crashing them into currents of distorted electric guitar. Songs like "Publish My Love" and "Catform" show off the technique to best effect, recreating the sensuality and panic of a romantic walk through a driving rainstorm. And when Rogue breaks for a short, hushed acoustic ballad like "Salesman At The Day Of The Parade"—which sounds like Elliott Smith re-imagined by The Shins—the light touch and pretty tune radiates warmth. But though it's generally enjoyable throughout, Descended Like Vultures feels more stunted than it should, as though Rogue were afraid to open up these songs too much. The sonic ambition of "You" doesn't recur often enough. A songwriter as talented as Rogue ought to take more chances.
No such tentativeness afflicts Wolf Parade's debut album, Apologies To The Queen Mary. Following the dual models of Modest Mouse—whose Isaac Brock produced the record—and The Arcade Fire, Apologies To The Queen Mary is aggressively poetic, and hand-crafted by the kind of scary idealists capable of bellowing lines like, "I'll draw three fingers on your heart / One of them will be me as a boy / One of them will be me / And one of them will be me watching you run." The band's melodies are counterintuitive, and its instrumentation sounds deceptively busy. For the most part, Wolf Parade makes a big, echoing noise with guitars and keyboard, while its steady-on drummer Arlen Thompson provides the foundation and the frame. (It's a rare band that sounds equally indebted to Talking Heads, Big Country, and Pixies.) Apologies To The Queen Mary can be a little messy and unwieldy, but Wolf Parade's willingness to overreach charges songs like "We Built Another World" with real meaning, and palpable hope.