Why the Rosebuds aren't more popular, even in the snooty avenues of the underground, remains a perpetual mystery to me. Is it because the North Carolina duo (Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, accompanied by a revolving cast of supporting musicians) insists on changing direction with each release? Is it because the cutesy dynamic of a rock 'n' roll couple (they're married) on the road had its last hurrah long ago with Fleetwood Mac (or even Mates of State)? Consumers are too tricky a bunch to know for sure, but what you should know is that this is a band that thrives on existing as both a conduit for sonic emotionalism and as threadbare testament to the rewards of shape-shifting style.

When the couple shot out of the East with the buzz of a hornet in late 2003, the Rosebuds accented their folksy foundation with generous amounts of atmospheric synth, giving them full license to tread in both glum and genial directions. So they did. Their excellent Birds Make Good Neighbors transmitted peppy folk-rock sing-alongs with a kick, while 2007's Night of the Furies expounded on the group's thinly veiled affection for new wave dance beats, reverb-heavy guitar leads, and more keys than a janitor's carabiner.

Life Like, the Rosebuds' latest release on Raleigh's perennial "it" label, Merge Records, is yet another foray into home-recorded four-track demos yielding an entire album. Howard opens the valves of his unique hodgepodge to include gloomy neo-goth soundscapes on "Concordia Military Club," then cinches it tighter to usher in the whistle-versed hum-along ditty "Hello Darling." Crisp provides chilly refrain when taking over lead duties on "Black Hole," offering yet another trick up the Rosebuds' sleeve.

There aren't many bands who've managed to be as chameleonic while receiving so little attention. But it'd be tragically wrong to say that this hasn't been to their benefit artistically—and there's nothing like being in on a secret that's good enough to keep.