After The Rosebuds released Life Like, their fourth album for Merge Records, in 2009, Kelly Crisp packed a few essentials and moved, alone, to Greenpoint in Brooklyn. North Carolina had been the cradle for The Rosebuds, the band Kelly and husband Ivan Howard (or Ivan and Kelly Rosebud, as you might know them) started the very week they got married. But the marriage had been failing for two albums, maybe longer, and it was time to call the relationship off. Ivan and Kelly were done, and The Rosebuds-Merge's buoyant pop-rock couple who'd youthfully named their first album The Rosebuds Make Out-were in limbo.
But Loud Planes Fly Low, The Rosebuds' fifth and most inventive album to date, is a sad-eyed and bright new start for Kelly and Ivan, beautifully born of the struggle to define their relationship as bandmates-and more importantly, friends-outside of the context of marriage. It wasn't easy. Written and rewritten, recorded and re-recorded in fits and starts, Loud Planes Fly Low allowed Kelly and Ivan to have the very conversations about their relationship that they'd long avoided. They finally started to understand what had gone wrong. When Ivan went to record "Worthwhile," the gorgeous acoustic ballad that closes the album, in a studio isolation booth, he cried as he sang. "I sent a box of our stuff, so there's something to open up," he coos, reading the words from a Christmas letter he wrote to Kelly during her Greenpoint stay. He'd sent her a box of meaningful trinkets gathered from the recesses of drawers and depths of closets in their old home. "Girl, I want to make it all worthwhile." He's reconsidering the past through new hope for the future.
For The Rosebuds, the present is what's most remarkable: These ten tunes are not only some of The Rosebuds' riskiest and most rewarding to date, but they also reveal a band eager to push their own limits, a couple of musicians who have come to cope with their complicated story for this blessed moment of restart. The aggressive "Woods" is a perfect rock anthem, as good as The Rosebuds have ever been. Kelly's stabs of toy keyboard poke like exclamation marks into Ivan's anxious entreaties. That same unease inspires "Come Visit Me," Kelly's finest-ever lead vocal performance. A plea for companionship during her time alone, the song is a tug of hearts. "Come visit me way out here/ I need you to see me, even if it makes it worse," Kelly sings. "Because I would have never left you alone way out there/ If I could have heard anything at all," Ivan answers from a distance, his best Percy Sledge pleas barely audible due to the fissure their problems have created.
That's not the only trace of R&B here. There's "Cover Ears," all cool and understated despite its romantic woes. "Second Bird of Paradise" sashays above pizzicato strings and vanishing keyboards, Ivan's voice conveying a sense of foreboding. "A Story" is woozy, narcotic soul, with keys that twinkle, guitars that moan and a singer who can only manage to sigh, "I want to tell you how it feels."
On Loud Planes Fly Low, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp do exactly that, reliving the pain and the worry through lyrics written together in the back room of the house they used to call home. For Kelly, making the album felt like a funeral for their relationship, where old friends like violinist Mark Paulson and drummer Matt McCaughan stopped in to pay their respects to an old end and to help build a new beginning. For Ivan, it was an honor to have musicians he respected, like bassists Brad Cook and Wes Phillips and producer Chris Stamey, give so much time and energy to songs that were so personal. Of course they did: Proudly mature, genuinely reflective, Loud Planes Fly Low is the most honest Rosebuds record since Ivan and Kelly made their way out of the gates in 2003.
But that's how it goes, right? You live, love, maybe lose and, hopefully, live to play another day. Loud Planes Fly Low, then, is the start of The Rosebuds' second chance-not as a couple, but as songwriters with, at last, a fascinating truth to tell.