By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Rosebuds are in something of a precarious spot.
"We've been in a band all these years, and Under the Radar wants to do a feature on our band, and I think, 'Great, it's taken six years to get in a magazine called Under the Radar. Maybe in seven years we can be in Barely a Blip magazine,'" jokes The Rosebuds' Kelly Crisp.
The married musical duo from Durham, N.C., is celebrating its fourth release, Life Like, since forming in '01—and the album is just that. While the latest disc retains some of the anxious '80s, dark wave energy of last year's Night of the Furies (two of Life Like's 10 tracks were written during those sessions), it's less claustrophobic and more organic and openhearted, both in spirit and sound.
Indeed, it's the duo's most upbeat set of songs since their debut, Make Out, as evidenced on tracks such as the whistle- and "aahhh"-adorned instrumental "Hello Darlin'"; the dreamy, loping "Black Hole" (which echoes Mazzy Star); and "Bow to the Middle," which matches effervescing guitar jangle to a Martian beat like a Wedding Present for The Cure.
"We were really full of fear," says Crisp of Furies, though she still considers it her favorite record to date because "our wounds were so fresh and open."
Part of the fear was related to how Furies was recorded—at home and not in a studio for the first time. Flush with insecurity over their musical abilities and self-recording inexperience, they felt the pressure of expectations after a pair of critically well-received albums. Crisp also implies a political element to their anxiety when she asserts that both she and hubby/guitarist Ivan Howard are now full of "hope."
Rather than stress over the production, this time, the duo lets the songs come to them as they relaxed in their backyard. The whole process unfolded naturally and nearly unbidden, forging a feeling reflected in Life Like's less pored-over tone.
"We were trying to not make a record, and this record got made," Crisp says. "It turns out we're workaholics. I was in New York trying to do stand-up comedy and taking some time away from music while Ivan had his knee rebuilt. Next thing you know we're recording a record again. Drinking wine, playing the guitar and singing songs together...It's just a very wholesome approach to making music that allows us to be as honest as we possibly can be or have ever been."
Lyrically, the album continues The Rosebuds' predilection for animal glyphs. "Nice Fox" tells the true story of a fox that died in their backyard and the connection they felt to it, while "Concordia Military Club" imagines a baby circus elephant's sense of imminent doom and frustration, locked alone in a room in the hours before Krakatoa's eruption. "We've been personifying these animals," Crisp admits. "So in some cases the animals carry the weight of human fears."
And while The Rosebuds aren't famous yet, the duo knows that anything can happen at any moment—particularly if they remain true to their vision.
They've seen it firsthand in the success of their friend Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver. Vernon helped The Rosebuds produce their last album, before releasing his much-fêted debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, this spring—going from unknown to essential overnight.
"I can see some of him in us," Crisp says. "It's really inspirational to see people being honest at what they're doing. That's what we've been learning to do all along, and I think we're getting closer and closer."