Veterans of the indie pop scene since releasing their first LP The Rosebuds Make Out In 2003, The Rosebuds return with their latest effort Sand + Silence, relying on the same foundations that first set them off. Their flair for churning out tracks that are essentially the epitome of the description ‘easy-listening’ is ever present here, and the product from duo Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp comes across as something almost effortless.
Produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame and even featuring the revered songwriter on guitar/synths, Sand + Silence definitely comes with its fair share of expectations. Matt McCaughan from the same background and Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn are roped in on drums and bass respectively as well. You don’t have to look far before you find influences from Vernon as the album opens with “In My Teeth”, but it is perhaps put forth in a more focused and polished manner than we are used to hearing from him. The flanger effect gives it an ’80s sound, almost like a more acoustic-driven Tears For Fears.
Fast-paced numbers with upbeat tempos and catchy hooks are where The Rosebuds really shine on Sand + Silence. “Blue Eyes” is a true standout, as the breezy number evokes nostalgic memories of vintage rock from the ’60s. The track comes across as an all-appealing sing-along, even blending in Motown-like rhythms. “Mine Mine” immediately follows as the duo showcases their unique brand of indie pop. While the melodies could use some revision as they appear similar to the preceding track, the delicate vocal layering emerges as the track’s saving grace, reminiscent of those from Crosby, Stills & Nash. For those who enjoy the acoustic-driven sound of bands such as Blind Pilot, this one’s for you.
The songwriting is another point of note in this release, as we see the exploration of various lyrical themes throughout the album. The title track documents the frustrations in a relationship and the failure to fulfill its potential as one side holds back, as seen from words such as “I bought this in the stretch of light / Lonely blue above / Give me a cloud of something right here / ‘Cause I’m unfolding in the light right here.” On “Death of an Old Bike”, we hear lyrics about discovering hope in tough times as Howard muses “I’m moving as fast as I can / To get back home to you / I’m trying as fast as I can / To make things right again.” “Looking For” is where Howard documents his search for fresh beginnings, and it is nicely complemented by a light soul-influenced rhythm and polished harmonies.
While Sand + Silence does hold what many of us would label as “quintessential indie pop” with all its catchiness and off-the-track approach, it comes across as somewhat underwhelming at times, especially as one considers the experience that a veteran act like The Rosebuds already has under their belt. “Walking” fails to excite despite its upbeat, feel-good groove, while “Wait a Minute” sounds like an uninspired amalgamation of the songs that came before it. The lack of experimentation here is almost like a halt in the band’s growth, and long-time fans may be left wishing for more.
The expectations that come with this album are perhaps the main key in what prevents it from being fully satisfactory. While the vocal contributions of Kelly Crisp have been featured extensively on previous releases, she is surprisingly only heard on “Esse Quam Videri” while she only adds instrumentation to the rest of the album. The brilliance of that single track, with its space-like synths and vocal variation, is a sign of the unfulfilled potential that we see in the album as a whole.
Perhaps the aim on Sand + Silence isn’t just about creating music that appeals to the audience, but more for themselves as artists. Tracks like “Give Me a Reason” and “Tiny Bones” are as organic and effortless as they come by – you can hear the ideas and emotion flowing naturally into the music. The end products are thoroughly graceful as you meditatively sway to the music. The former is particularly calming with its light instrumental layering, reminding us of the more subtle side of The National.
All in all, Sand + Silence is still a record created in good taste, and the years of experience between the duo and their collaborators do well to ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of cheesy pop hooks that only carry the aim of making it as a radio hit. The Rosebuds have chosen to keep it light and eloquent with this effort, and have emerged this time with a new form of elegance to their sound.