If even The Mysteries Of Life couldn't conquer the world with clean, catchy guitar-pop, it's hard to imagine what hope The Rosebuds have. And it certainly doesn't help that the North Carolina husband-and-wife team have been gradually siphoning off a lot of their reckless energy, downshifting from the newlywed mania of The Rosebuds Make Out to the relaxed routine of this year's Unwind EP and the new Birds Make Good Neighbors. It's hard enough to peddle well-written songs, ably played. Drop them to a hush, and their virtues get even harder to hear.
But that's the challenge that The Rosebuds have set for themselves, and the attentive should still be able to catch what the band is doing in alternating quiet, wispy songs like "Blue Bird" with driving hookfests like "Outnumbered." Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp still reference other music—like quoting the melody and lyrics of The Undertones' punk anthem "Teenage Kicks" in "Wildcat," and paying homage to The Smiths in the chiming "The Lovers' Rights"—and they still write a lot of songs about kids hanging out. But there's a pained expression behind a lot of these songs. The line "We'll be so happy" in the album-closing "4-Track Love Song" is undercut by the dirty-sounding electric guitar, while even "Wildcat" and "The Lovers' Rights" adopt a tone of looking back, like sketches of a passion that was.
The underlying theme of Birds Make Good Neighbors burns brightest in "Boxcar," where Howard sings about playhouses in the woods, insisting, "I'm not crazy / I'm just a little boy." The album wars between adulthood and childhood, between complexity and simplicity, and The Rosebuds are hashing it out, declaring their allegiance to one side, even if their support can only be tacit. In just a little over 30 minutes, they establish a mood, a presence, and a position. Their record is all deep twang, railroad rhythms, and innocence reclaimed.