Thinking of Rogue Band of Youth as a standalone outfit is difficult: The members are part of an extended family that includes local acts like Schooner and Some Army, of which primary vocalist Patrick O'Neill is a member. Will Clinton, the driving force of Wichita Falls, recorded Rogue's self-titled debut LP. They are, in fact, part of the Potluck Foundation, a Chapel Hill-based extended family of musicians as much as a record label. Still, in spite of the close ties, each musical cousin explores its own distinct pop-rock corner.
Rogue Band of Youth is the folk-derived, harmony-heavy trio of the bunch. O'Neill, guitarist Jack Hartley and violinist Chloe Gude build from singer-songwriter material into sometimes-broiling percussion, adorned with textural swooshes and orchestral swells. Their ever-present three-part harmonies represent an intriguing nexus of CSNY, Paul Simon's Graceland and Animal Collective's sugar-high sing-alongs.
Unlike most acoustic-built, songwriter-centric music, though, these aren't relaxing balms: most of the songs are fast, impatient things. "Go leave/Go on, get gone/You can't stay/This ain't your home," the trio sings over nervous skitters and creepily truncated violin squeals on "Slow Down." With its hurried tempo, it's like a 21st-century update of the darker tracks from Déjà Vu. And in "Daedalus," the Rogues follow singer-songwriter tradition by reshaping archetypes—in this case, the classical Greek cautionary tale of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, and his father.
The tune starts off predictably enough, with O'Neill setting the scene of Daedalus building the kid's wings. Just as the song seems headed for folkie story-song cliché, the narrative freezes: "Feathers floating 'round/Feathers floating 'round," Gude and Hartley sing behind O'Neill, repeating and repeating the phrase until the track ends in blank, compulsive desperation. A similar neurotic attachment to a single detail or phrase has worked wonders for Modest Mouse, and it fits nicely here; rather than force another allegory out of a familiar parable, Rogue Band of Youth taps familiar characters to create a lifelike emotional tableau.
For what you could call folk-rock, this isn't calm or soothing. At moments, it's frankly anxious and frazzled. But Rogue Band of Youth pulls that off without necessarily getting loud, adding another surprise element of tension to these tunes.
Label: Potluck Foundation
This article appeared in print with the headline "Discomfort zones"