The marital fiascos and domestic entanglements of our society’s celebrities have always made ideal fodder for primetime news programs and weekly periodicals; in the well lit studios of 20/20 and on the glossy pages of People magazine, romantic failures tend to take on a surreal aura, where camp and melodrama keep us endlessly entertained but mask the pernicious nature of the situation. In the past five years, social networking and blogging have only served to elevate the talebearing nature of the breakups of the rich and famous, feeding our voyeuristic desires with everything from candid tweets and ill-advised Facebook posts to questionable Youtube videos and sordid sexting exchanges.
With all of the hullabaloo that’s typically generated when two stars decide to split up, it can be difficult to remember that, beneath all of the histrionics and spectacle, there are two deeply wounded people struggling to plot their next move. Most folks wouldn’t consider Ivan Howard or Kelly Crisp – of the Raleigh, NC indie pop act the Rosebuds – to be heavyweights on the fame scale, but their recently dissolved marriage has nonetheless received a fair deal of press, and rightfully so – it’s not every day that a husband/wife band with a decade’s worth of critically acclaimed music decide to end their union and chronicle the entire episode through song.
Loud Planes Fly Low is the first Rosebuds product from Howard and Crisp that finds the recently divorced duo operating only as bandmates. Since it was their amorous connection that caused the band to materialize in the first place, it seems only fitting that the two would employ their musical chemistry to examine the reasons behind the dissipation of that love. Far removed from the sort of breakup pageantry exhibited by bigger names (Did you see Jack White and Karen Elson’s recently released divorce party invitation?), the album sidesteps any kitschy fluff and goes right for the throat with an intensely personal documentation of a passionate affair gone wrong.
The music of Loud Planes Fly Low is by turns sweet and somber, rousing and reflecting, majestic and melancholy – qualities long associated with the Rosebuds. Still though, the gravitas comes through with greater force here, and the fact that the music exhibits so much restraint despite such interpersonal turmoil only makes the experience all the more disarming. Yet divorce or not, it’s the melodies that pull the biggest punches here. The Rosebuds know the value of a good hook, and this record packs plenty of them into 10 fairly concise pop tunes.
Opening track “Go Ahead” is a luscious amalgam of droning organ harmonies, shimmering piano arpeggios, and soaring vocals. Though the wordless chorus is the most affecting portion of the song, Howard takes great pains to juxtapose the mundane and fantastical portions of his relationship with Crisp, singing “We’ll have coffee / watch the strangers,” and “We’ll make beds in your dresses,” with equal sincerity. “Second Bird of Paradise” is another early-album standout, melding tremolo-affected keyboards, violin countermelodies, and soulful falsetto vocals with wonderfully evocative lyrics (“She’s my sister / and she floats like a bird in the canopy”).
“Come Visit Me” makes one of the album’s more overt statements, taking a downtrodden disco groove and pairing it with a slinky bass line and Crisp’s outspoken admissions: “I need something happy now / even if it fucks me up.” The song has that perfect mix of swagger and naked confessionalism, resulting in a resolute yet wounded tone. After four tracks of reverb-laden dream pop, “Without a Focus” conjures unexpected intensity thanks to a lack of instrumentation; a plaintively strummed acoustic guitar and Ivan Howard’s despondent drawl are the only constants here.
The album’s second half is no less engaging as it veers between urgent arena rock (“Woods”), hypnotic shoegaze (“A Story”), and tender folk meditations (closing track “Worthwhile”). Having come full circle from the reveries of “Go Ahead” in which Howard imagines himself and Crisp starting over again in some quixotic idyll, “Worthwhile” seeks to reconcile the entire saga altogether, as indicated by lyrics like, “We could’ve had a break when we were tired / we would rest awhile / and I’d try to make you smile / girl, I want to make it all worthwhile.”
It’s not entirely clear yet whether Loud Planes Fly Low will be the Rosebuds’ swan song or simply a restatement of purpose, but either way, the band has delivered one of the most arresting breakup albums since Beck’s Sea Change.