Depending on how you took to the Rosebuds’ carefree, sugary pop debut Make Out, Birds Make Good Neighbors may be a step up, or a disappointment. While it’s clear that there are those who prefer their pop music be innocent and primed for the summertime, I can’t help but fall in the former category. The Rosebuds have been a splendid pop band all along, but on the decidedly darker Birds Make Good Neighbors, there’s more substance to go along with the power-pop good times. Call it a shade of “goth,” or merely Southern balladry, but The Rosebuds have made a record that speaks to music lovers of all kinds, not just those who need an immediate hook.
Not unlike the other Southern bands that have at one time called Merge Records their home (Lambchop, Rock*A*Teens, Neutral Milk Hotel), The Rosebuds mesh their North Carolina charm with a lethal combination of the joyous and the sinister. And it’s damned irresistible. To some, it might seem as a blatant attempt to make a more “mature” record, but it’s hardly a difficult one. It’s easily one of this fall’s most accessible albums.
The tense build-up of “Hold Hands and Fight” is reminiscent of Rilo Kiley, a slight twang being swirled in with a fair amount of catchy pop goodness, as Ivan Howard sings of pugilistic lovers: “We get by/And we brace ourselves/and hold our hands and fight.” The following track, “Boxcar,” is more straightforward garage rock, yet doesn’t skimp on the hooks either. As one reviewer noted, however, The Rosebuds have discovered subtlety, and it suits them rather well.
Yet, when they want to shoot full blast into a fiery rocker, such as the Duane Eddy-meets-The Pixies rock in “Leaves Do Fall,” The Rosebuds can do no wrong. Kelly Crisp takes over vocals during the first verse of this track, climaxing with the eerie chorus, “I’m a desperate girl/and that terrifies me.” A similar sound, albeit a more upbeat one, can be heard on the surfed-out “The Lover’s Rights,” a bright, yet strangely melancholy track, which is then followed by the dreamy and gorgeous “Blue Bird.” Those looking for a song to get stuck in their heads instantly, however, won’t be able to get past “Outnumbered,” a haunting reverb-loving rocker with a super cool vocal melody and truly spine-tingling backing howls.
As the album nears a close, the blazing rockers fade into dreamy ballads and subtler acoustic numbers, each one of them enjoyable and memorable as their more upbeat counterparts. The Rosebuds are not a hard band to like, but Birds Make Good Numbers may require a little more attention than the band’s earlier output. That shouldn’t detract anyone however, as the album, given that attention, reveals itself to be the band’s best.
Rilo Kiley – The Execution of All Things
The Pixies – Bossanova
Calla – Collisions
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.