It was easy to fall in love with the Rosebuds. Their 2003 debut, The Rosebuds Make Out, radiated youthful charm with its unabashedly heart-on-sleeve tunes and its glorious mess of guitars and drums. And there was, of course, the band’s history. The duo of singer-guitarist Ivan Howard and keyboardist Kelly Crisp met in college in North Carolina and started making music together. They eventually got hitched; Make Out would soon follow. But these weren’t songs about settling down. At nearly every turn Make Out threw its arms around huge, naive romantic bliss. Howard sang about holding hands at a carnival and scrawling “kisses” at the top of his wish list. Growing up would have to wait.
Whether or not you interpreted Make Out as the couple’s co-authored biography, each subsequent release from the band seemed to chronicle an evolving relationship. On second full-length Birds Make Good Neighbors, wide-eyed lyrics about buying flowers for your baby gave way to talk of kids and families. The two lovebirds now sang about baby birds and blue birds: a favorite metaphor of the band, they represented a kind of pure but fleeting romance. The duo’s next LP, Night of the Furies, used a new wave soundtrack to plunge into the shadows of film noir. There was plenty of interpersonal conflict, but eventually the album sounded like two people who each turned inwards only after turning away from each other.
Life Like offered signs that the couple would soon be out of the woods, but that masked the couple’s real struggles. Howard and Crisp separated not long after that album was released, and the band’s future was in doubt. But after what surely must have been painful recording sessions, the band emerged with Loud Planes Fly Low, their fifth and best album. It not only brings a good measure of finality to a familiar plot line, but recalls the best moments from their previous work. With Crisp hammering on the keyboard, “Woods” stands up to the best of Make Out‘s straight-up rockers. “Limitless Arms” builds on Furies’ raw theater with a pulsating bassline, tremolo strings, and as gorgeous a melody as the Rosebuds have ever composed. On their new album, the Rosebuds play to their strengths and show the versatile musicians they’ve become over the course of eight years.
One of the album’s standouts is “Come Visit Me”, a glossy track with a disco vibe. In the past, Crisp-led tracks have tended to be among the band’s most edgy, even sinister: On “Leaves Do Fall” on Neighbors, Life Like‘s “Cape Fear”, and “I Better Run” and “When the Lights Went Dim” on Furies, Crisp used the spotlight to cast doubt on the possibility of a shared future. But on “Come Visit Me”, Crisp sings like a sweeter Debbie Harry while revealing a vulnerable side we haven’t seen from her: “Come visit me way out here / I need you to save me, even if it makes it worse.”
But that track is all we really hear from Crisp. Her harmonies only scattered here and there on the album, with repeated listenings Loud Planes Fly Low more and more takes the form of Howard’s isolation, his own Blood on the Tracks. The man is willing to own up to his mistakes, but confesses he’s not sure where to go next. On “Without a Focus” he admits, “I don’t know how I am supposed to feel without a focus.” On “Worthwhile”, the acoustic ballad that closes the album, all abstractions are tossed aside. This is Howard speaking directly to Crisp. “The snow is falling on the sidewalks of Greenpoint”, he sings, referring to the neighborhood of Brooklyn where Crisp relocated after they separated. He continues: “I sent a box of our stuff, so there’s something to open up.” Howard can’t be there with her, and he’s learning to accept it. It would all seem contrived if the Rosebuds hadn’t built a catalog of pop songs that, despite its twists and turns, has always been anchored in sincerity. Eight years after their debut, Howard and Crisp are still the same kids who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
So where do the Rosebuds go from here? It’s hard to tell; the duo sound like they have plenty left in them, and it’s exciting to think how they would develop as musicians as friends. Still, you can’t shake the feeling that Loud Planes Fly Low is about parting ways. If this is the last we ever hear from the Rosebuds, then we’ll remember them for carving out a career that has bent from youthful bliss to heartache, and finally to acceptance: of a relationship that can’t be saved. That’s a hurt you’ll feel down deep. But fortunately we have their records, so it’s always easy to fall in love with the Rosebuds. All over again.
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