The problem with most cute couple bands—those whose feelings for each other resonate in each and every song they play—is that they are in the business of selling the commodity of love. The voyeuristic decree of "look how happy we are, in love, and playing music together," will always overshadow any music they make. It's monogamy as music, and while it's great for those in happy relationships, it's a cruel taunt to those who spend their nights alone.
This was my first reaction to Raleigh, NC's the Rosebuds. While the duo of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp are partners in both music and matrimony, their passion for each other is not the sole impetus behind their craft. While other couples hunch together and form inseparable pairs, Howard and Crisp don't fight outside influence, having opened up the Rosebuds to various backing members (they are a quintet on the current tour) and the musical evolution that comes with new blood in the band.
Of course, it wasn't always like this. After sending a lone demo out—to indie giant Merge Records, who instantly signed them—the Rosebuds released an innocent debut album of sweet and playful bedroom pop. Enjoyable, sure, and even if the band was playing as a trio back then, the record was a perfect example of the two-headed monster of couple rock. Need proof? Look no further than its title, The Rosebuds Make Out. It's not called You Make Out, because you are not a Rosebud—you are single and unloved, ticking off the days before you die alone, buried six feet deep with your record collection at your side—and if you forgot this fact, this album will happily remind you.
Thankfully, the Rosebuds changed course when it came to album number two, 2005's Birds Make Good Neighbors. No longer content with just being together, the album shows great depth and an urge to meld their bouncy-pop into something more enduring, even if that means swapping the fun for the remorseful and introspective. The third release from the band, this year's Night of the Furies, is another grand departure. Their previous gloom still lingers, but the duo is now focused on channeling their New Order obsession into glistening pop gems, stacked high with swirling keyboards and emotionally detached vocals. Howard's deadpan speak-sing baritone vocals appear out of the darkness, like a drifter on the side of a darkened road, lingering about with some unsavory intentions. And while things flirt with the slippery slope of new wave at times, there is no faux-Brit coldness here, since like any band assembled upon a foundation of love, the Rosebuds aren't afraid to get a little romantic, or sexy, from time to time.
Of course, according to Howard, this was the band's intent: "I think the mood of the music is more romantic this time around because of the bass lines and synth sounds. We really did not set out to make a more romantic record, but we did want to make it sexier than our previous albums."
As far as the couple-in-bands thing goes, the Rosebuds are exempt from my scorn, because their inner-band relationship hardly matters. Especially when their musical output is so dark, so varied, and downright hot. Other couple bands should take notes, because the Rosebuds know what they are doing.