The decade most often associated with disco is the ’70s, and with good reason—that was the decade in which it was born. Yet the one in which disco has seen the most activity is arguably the current one. Having undergone something of a renaissance thanks to the likes of Daft Punk and the DFA making dance music cool again, disco hi-hats have found their way into seemingly every genre under the pop umbrella. From dancepunk to indie pop to arena giants like the Killers, no style of music can’t be adapted for added late night gyrations with a little cowbell and some deeply thumping basslines. That said, I was taken by surprise, yet intrigued, to hear that North Carolina reverb-rockers The Rosebuds began incorporating dance rhythms into their bittersweet love songs on third album Night of the Furies.
Stylistic shifts are part of the Rosebuds’ M.O., so switching up their approach with each album shouldn’t come as much of a shock. Debut The Rosebuds Make Out with its cheery, sugary pop was all but forgotten when the comparatively dark haze of Birds Make Good Neighbors rolled in over the horizon. Considering how much of a success that shift was, taking that shimmering gloom to the dancefloor seemed like a step in an odd direction, but one that ultimately proves invigorating and pretty fun. The dramatic flair of Birds hasn’t disappeared; in fact, the duo’s minor key pop is just as dark and eerie as ever, but now it’s got a little more pelvic thrust.
Aside from the “Heart of Glass” keyboard sputters in the background, first track “My Punishment for Fighting” doesn’t particularly seem all that far off from The Rosebuds’ previous effort. Its melancholy new wave sound sounds more like U2’s “New Year’s Day” than “Stayin’ Alive,” some minimal bass driving the song beneath Ivan Howard’s lament: “I could never be all you need me to/ my punishment is living without you.” “Cemetery Lawn,” in spite of its chilling love and death lyrics, sounds almost like a vintage New Order song, synths and drum machines layering in Hacienda heaven. Kelly Crisp’s lead on “I Better Run” finds a morbid muse (“I think my father built an awful flame/ it burned his eyes, his mouth, it burned his brain“), but the gothic dance party therein is an irresistible gem, almost hedonistic in escaping the shadows of death.
“Get Up Get Out” is the most blatant use of disco beats and electric piano, charmingly retro in its execution. There’s a sadness that permeates the song, yet Howard seems to counteract it with celebration, singing “get up, get out and fill the streets/ let’s dance in the ash of the big chimneys.” By comparison, “Silence By the Lakeside” is much closer to the spare, haunting rock of Birds Make Good Neighbors. Former tourmates The Shout Out Louds lend some rowdy group vocals during the chorus of “Silja Line,” a powerful and tense standout which transitions from spare, spectral verse to majestic, mug-swilling chorus: “Oh, let’s all toast to the ones we love/ To old friends and to Viking blood.”
The closing title track doesn’t even require a DFA remix to become a certified dance floor hit; the beats will move feet, the backing is minimal and trippy, and Howard plays the diva quite well as he belts “I can see their eyes, and you never will believe it.” The Rosebuds haven’t so much abandoned the sound of their prior record as they have added a new element. The overwhelming sense of spookiness and sorrow is ever-present; it’s just now that much easier to dance the pain away.
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.