Rogue Set must have taken a certain criticism to heart regarding their 2007 debut, The Elm City Shuffle. The album was a fitful spouting of competent and sincere punk rock, but it was so fucking long -- 8 songs and about 41 minutes. The band just didn’t have enough interesting ideas to carry on a song for five minutes apiece.
And what do you know? Their followup, Shake Those Hands has one more track yet trims the fat by about 14 minutes.
Against Me! do remain a primary parallel as far as comparisons go, but noticeably less this time around. It’s more like a vague similarity, since there aren’t really any tinges of folk here at all. Shake Those Hands is more like a cleaner, more experimental and tempo-restrained version of what the Riot Before do, an emotional and fairly cathartic sound that’s just effective enough to take notice. “Neutral Mosh” certainly keeps them in such a grouping, while “Caution: Corrosive” makes the best case for comparisons the band have garnered to the Lawrence Arms (certainly more Chris McCaughan than Brendan Kelly).
They’re clearly going for a big sound with tracks like the first two, “Lethal Vanity” and “Don’t Worry,” but seem to only hit the mark at about 75%. There’s a certain something that’s missing, but damn if the band aren’t trying. It’s hard to say what keeps these songs from being just absolutely epic, whether it’s the somewhat muted production on the vocals or a tendency to hastily rush into such majestic-sounding territory.
One of the better moments comes in “Sunrise Revamp,” where the band seem to come the closest in hitting their stride with an earnestly delivered chorus, even if the wording is a little clumsy: “We are alive / in this place / where I’m not familiar where ego exists. / ‘It’s who we are.’”
Like The Elm City Shuffle, Shake Those Hands certainly isn’t restricted by punk’s limitations, as it’s livened up by the occasional piano or lighter acoustic fare. “Post-Traumatic Violence” is both: a billowy, floating arrangement that matches the tempo of the rest of the record but essentially remains a breathing interlude for listeners.
Shake Those Hands is a considerable improvement for Rogue Set, who seem to be developing into a truly unique and diverse ensemble. Sure, they’re already two full-lengths into the game, but if they stick to it, with further growth and progress they seem destined to make an indelible mark.