The Rosebuds: The Rosebuds Unwind

[1 May 2005]

By Justin Cober-Lake

When we last saw the Rosebuds, they were making out and producing a strong album of power-pop, but apparently that project was a bit stressful, because on their follow-up EP, we find only that The Rosebuds Unwind. Don’t let the disc’s name fool you, though—Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp might be dropping the tempo on occasion, but they certainly don’t sound as if they’re relaxing.

The opening number, “You Better Get Ready”, calls us to a ‘60s barbecue. The initial descending “ah”‘s set the time and place even more explicitly than the guitar-driven music. The throwback sound’s catchy, but it could also soundtrack a trip to Old Navy. Despite the general fun, the song suffers from its mix—the vocals are much too low for the summer sing-along that the music encourages. Not that the lyrics are essential to enjoying the song, but the track would benefit from putting Howard’s voice forward.

“El Camino” gets the vocals almost where they should be, and the slow, expressive track works well. Both an ode and a plea, the atmospheres work well, and the brief acoustic moment sets up the rise of the song’s closing crunch perfectly. The Rosebuds throw more craft into this song than into the rest of the EP, and it shows.

The title track adds a slight tropical flavor to the generally indie aesthetic of the disc. The vocal lines once again recall the ‘60s in a pleasing way. Lyrically, the song unsettles more than you’d expect from hearing the music. The singer has a veritable need to unwind. Howard’s delivery more than the song’s content points a problem lying behind this desire for relaxation. That contrast sets up a subtle tension that keeps the song interesting on repeated listens.

“Edmund Street” further develops the touch of darkness in the vibe. “Why don’t you say I’m the one?” growls Howard, and he turns from questioning lover into frightening stalker. The sun’s gone down and everyone has gone except for one lingerer, a man who looks normal in all ways, but who exudes creep. “I’d Feel Better” comes to the rescue with more upbeat pop, nicely reminding listeners of the disc’s opener. Some of the pure joy’s gotten lost on this track, though. The song’s title refers to a lover turned to another guy, and the resulting loneliness. Howard sings, “Sometimes I’m better without her,” but the only person he’s convincing—if anyone—is himself.

The Rosebuds Unwind relies on tensions between sound and content, reflection and brooding, fun and failing escapism. It’s a steady artistic statement, but one that’s not musically as exciting as the band’s full-length. This time, it’s the little structures that deserve attention. Worth a listen, but only if you have time for a second one, and probably a third.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/rosebuds-unwind/