The Minnesota five piece, fronted by songwriter/guitarist Chris Koza and keyboardist Linnea Mohn sharing the lead vocal work, has garnered considerable consumer and critical notice in recent years. Their ascent in American popular music has seen their songwriting featured in various media outlets and on major motion picture soundtracks. The band’s fifth album, radiate dissolve, features a dozen songs with a pronounced penchant for creating mood, yet never risking self-indulgence. The band defies easy categorization. On some songs, the guitars are much more prominent than others and Rogue Valley’s identity shifts to a more alt rock oriented model. An almost folk song aesthetic emerges from other tracks while others still utilize a much more traditional electronic backdrop for the lyrical meditations on individual experience. The band has a very layered approach in regards to their presentation and a great deal of obvious effort has been expended in the name of ambiance, but it never comes off as ham-fisted.
The opener is an ideal example of how the band’s approach works. “The Brightest Stars” sounds like an artsy folk song with just enough added production and instrumentation to skew it away from tradition. Despite whatever gloss they may apply to their final product, melody is an essential building block in everything Rogue Valley does. Koza and second guitarist Peter Steve step out more on the second track “Host”, but despite the added six string muscle, Rogue Valley’s carefully constructed mood continues from the first to second cut. The band’s patience is palpable. They are quite willing to achieve their effects through accumulation and never look for any sort of big wow, gee whiz moment to carry their performances or, most importantly, songwriting. The band’s singer/songwriter or folkie inclinations vividly emerge on “Pulse”. Linnea Mohn takes control vocally and her voice is an impressive mix of higher register emotiveness and gritty lower register gravitas. The fluency of her movement across that range is equally impressive – it doesn’t sound like any studio trickery to hear her consistently hit the right spot, every time, with just the right amount of effort. Koza returns to the fore on its follow-up, “Bury Your Heart”. This is easily one of the album’s darker pieces, but once again, Rogue Valley resist any sort of self-indulgence and don’t lay the despair on listeners with a mop. Instead, they rely on understatement, emotiveness, and their ever present ear for melody.
“Loom” certainly ranks as one of the album’s most interesting experiments. It comes off as nothing less than an audacious merger of orchestral pop influences with the band’s singer/songwriter sensibility and willingness to use electronica. What might sound like a mishmash of styles to some comes off extraordinarily well here. The album’s title song concludes the release with the expected big cinematic number intended to restate themes and allow the band to stretch out as writers and players like. They make the most of the chance with the album’s longest track, yet it doesn’t run over six minutes and plays like its shorter. It’s a solid ending to one of the year’s most interesting full length efforts.