It's supposed to be news that the offstage divorce of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp inspired Loud Planes Fly Low, The Rosebuds' accomplished fifth album. It's supposed to be, but if that tension really seems that much like news, maybe you haven't been listening closely enough.
The duo began, famously, one week after Howard and Crisp were wed, in Wilmington, N.C. The couple moved to Raleigh seeking—and landing—a record deal from Merge. They titled their 2003 debut The Rosebuds Make Out. But by 2005's high-water mark, Birds Make Good Neighbors, it was clear the honeymoon was over; the album, highlighted by the thoughtful "Hold Hands and Fight," was marked by its nuanced emotions and deft balance of pensive melody and exuberant pop. This was the record to which any future Rosebuds album would be compared. Naturally, 2007's Night of the Furies came as a bit of a shock. Introducing a more electronically inclined sound and a thematic darkness that nodded at times to Depeche Mode, the album found Crisp and Howard trading shifts as lead singer and exploring, separately, notions of betrayal and hurt. "I could never be/ All you need me to/ My punishment is living without you," Howard sings on "My Punishment for Fighting."
Life Like, released a year later, was in many ways a return to form. The heavy electronic textures they'd explored on Furies didn't disappear entirely but instead served to add heft to melodies. The album also fixated on Southern scenery, filling the songs with catfish and manipulative preachers, and drawing from Howard and Crisp's respective Carolina upbringings. But the album's main current was nostalgia. The Rosebuds were looking back—at childhood memories, at the life of a dead fox, at the records they made, at their own relationship. In the gauzy "Black Hole," Crisp sings pensively of a "little diary" surviving the end of the world: "Out of context, all alone/ Maybe it never finds another to tell/ Infinite misses with meaning instead."
Viewed as a relationship's time line, The Rosebuds' catalog follows a line of sight from the honeymooners' buoyant pop to the couple's slow separation. In that context, Loud Planes Fly Low is not a breakup record; those records are behind them. Instead, Loud Planes is an album of resolution, an attempt at bittersweet reconciliation. The harmonies they share on "Go Ahead" are warm and close, but that doesn't mean the album is a return to the upbeat pop of Make Out (or even of the sort that Life Like aimed for). Instead, the band's continued absorption of its influences lends the album a sense of gravity and grandiosity The Rosebuds haven't previously achieved. The pair takes cues from former tourmates The National, resulting in a paradoxically lush austerity during songs like "Cover Ears" and "Go Ahead." Howard, on "Woods," seems to be reaching for the favorite high notes of his friend Stu McLamb of The Love Language. "Worthwhile," one of the band's absolute gems, adopts some of the Bowerbirds' casual poignancy and acoustic resonance. Washes of keys and strings swell behind Howard's guitar as he sings, presumably to Crisp, "I sent a box of our stuff, so there's something to open up/ Girl, I want to make it all worthwhile."
The devil is, indeed, in the details, and this one feels like a particularly difficult exorcism. But in its utterance is a release. "Worthwhile," which closes the album, is a fittingly bittersweet farewell—and, you have to think, the quiet gatherings of a new start.