To say that Rogue Wave's Permalight is a two-faced record is critical understatement at its finest. At times an acoustic, SoCal splendor that illuminates the Oakland quartet's folksy charisma, the album often commits inexplicable about-faces, leaving its listeners with jarring electrified pop experiments ill-suited to Rogue Wave's mien. As such, Permalight is a startling contrast in subdued grace and awkward severity, alternately rewarding and punishing as the band seeks to craft a new voice without entirely abandoning the old.
While the album's stumbling side is often allayed by the simple rawness of Rogue Wave's strumming, handclapping sensibility, things still go awry, and often rather painfully. Leadman Zach Rogue does his best to inject clumsy pieces like "Fear Itself" with a kind of cooed detachment, but his timbre is an unseemly match for the racing fuzz, resulting in the most derivative and grating vocal mimicry of Benjamin Gibbard this side of Owl City. Both the title track and "Right with You" are predictable, paper-thin bubblegum-pop numbers that struggle to fill their three-minute timeframes with anything even slightly redeemable. Much the same goes for "Per Anger" and "Stars and Stripes," the first a heavily-neutered rock exercise and the second an uptempo, schizophrenic mess that stands as a microcosm for Permalight's larger problems. Both run counter to the gentle, reflective charm of the band.
Rogue & Co. fare better when they abandon the synths and plug-ins for their reliable acoustic standbys, as they do on tattered, bared-boned offerings such as "I'll Never Leave You" and "All That Remains," pieces that all at once exhibit threadbare, pastoral simplicity, youthful exuberance, and warm-blooded nuance. Such distinctions are the band's obvious strengths, which makes their partial abandonment—and Permalight's clumsy forays into electro-pop rigor— that much more baffling.