Zach Rogue is incredibly gifted at writing one particular style of song: quirky, tuneful, big-hearted indie rock. And over the course of three wonderful albums (2003's 'Out of the Shadow,' 2005's 'Descended Like Vultures,' and their commercial breakthrough, 2007's 'Asleep at Heaven's Gate'), Rogue himself seemed perfectly content with that fact. Then came 2010's 'Permalight,' a batch of sterile, awkward, woefully over-produced electro-pop that smoothed over all of the band's idiosyncrasies in an attempt to sound culturally relevant.

For the first time ever, Rogue seemed to be writing for a target audience, rather than writing from his heart. But with 'Nightingale Floors,' the band's fifth LP, that superficial distance between artist and listener has been broken down entirely, replaced with a raw, ragged intimacy.

Rogue Wave -- now essentially a partnership between Rogue and drummer/producer Pat Spurgeon -- are no strangers to tragedy: Former bassist Evan Farrell died of smoke inhalation soon after the release of 'Heaven's Gate.' But 'Nightingale Floors' finds Rogue channeling his grief more directly -- mourning the death of his father and lamenting the transience of love. These songs still have an abstract edge (both lyrically and sonically, with John Congelton's fuzzy production style), but for the first time in years, it feels like Rogue's singing his jagged lullabies straight into your ear.

'No Magnatone' feels purposefully raw, opening the album with the exact blueprint for a standard Rogue Wave song -- trebly pinwheel guitars circling over Pat Spurgeon's joyous cymbals and snares; it's followed by the grandiose 10/8 throb of 'College,' one of the loveliest singles in the band's songbook (and, let's face it, a surefire candidate for a rom-com soundtrack). 'Figured It Out' is the closest the album gets to the uncomfortable slickness of 'Permalight,' placing Rogue's pretty harmonies over a zippy dance-pop beat -- but even that track has a vulnerability sorely missing on that previous album.

The album's centerpiece is 'The Closer I Get,' a glowing eulogy set to fragile acoustics and a wandering organ drone. "The older I get, the older you get," Rogue sings, in one of his most emotionally affecting moments as a songwriter. "I'll always love you, maybe even through death." It's sonically sparse and emotionally massive -- just like the album itself. 'Nightingale Floors' isn't Rogue's best album, but it could be his most crucial.

7 out of 10 rating