Break-up albums are tough enough when one person leaves, but when the band members stick around, things can get awfully interesting (for the listener) and pretty tricky (for the players). This was the climate that Rumours came out of — if you like that sort of thing — but it’s a risky move. Still, Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard of the Rosebuds ended their marriage and wanted to keep the Rosebuds going. It was worth it to them, and you can feel them trying to move on, trying to keep their music alive, with Loud Planes Fly Low.
It’s a record that deals in the dreamier side of the Rosebuds’ sound. Their fifth full-length sounds very little like their first, as they’ve shifted over the years from bursts of youthful, clear-eyed power-pop into something more gauzy and complicated — and that new (and sadly fitting) complication places a weight on this record. These songs are heavy with the past, weighed down by what could have been. The album both honors what the couple had and laments its passing.
The melancholy fog that hangs over the record doesn’t negate the band’s inherent tunefulness, though. As always, the duo has put together some awfully catchy moments on this record. The best ones come when glimmers of their past energy cut through these tangled emotions. Opener “Go Ahead” is boilerplate Rosebuds, which is to say it is beautiful in its use of vocal harmonies and a rich but not overused echo. Over these misty sounds, Ivan Howard’s voice leaps out of the song with surprising power. Elsewhere “Woods” — the album’s best track — cranks up a frustrated energy. Howard shouts through the chorus, but it’s the quiet-sung verses, with cutting lines like “you can’t burn what’s already on fire” that hit the hardest. It’s also a nice companion to “Come Visit Me,” Crisp’s only turn on lead vocals, where she’s stuck in her own stagnant pain. She needs something to happen, “even if it fucks [her] up.” Both are haunting rock songs, songs that churn with vitality even as they reveal the cracks of their inherent sadness.
It’s a tough thing to break-up and keep working in the same band, particularly when you are the two main players/songwriters in that band. And while Loud Planes Fly Low is often striking, it also feels distracted. Songs like “Limitless Arms” and “Second Bird of Paradise” are dreamy and bittersweet, but also overly languid and as they move on they lose their thread. These moments feel like they should be exploratory, but come off instead as lost. There are more fruitful experiments in, say, the intricate drum freak-out in “A Story”, and closer “Worthwhile” is quiet, but doesn’t trudge. It’s got a focus to it that gets lost in other moments on the record, and Ivan Howard lays out plainspoken but aching admissions. “We could go on wishing we did it right,” he sighs, but keeps coming back to “Girl, I want to make this all worthwhile.”
How the two will do that is left up in the air, but there is something cathartic in that finish. There are still open wounds here, but you can feel them closer to healing as the record moves on. It’s an album that sounds like it was difficult to make, as these two move from being the couple to being the players, and that difficulty yields some of their most beautiful moments on record yet, even if it also (and perhaps necessarily) gets in the way of the songs sometimes.