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ROSEBUDS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Make Out (Merge) 2003
Unwind EP (Merge) 2005
Birds Make Good Neighbors (Merge) 2005
Night of the Furies (Merge) 2007

Musical marrieds Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp are pure indie-pop craftsmen. Taking inspiration from several eras and styles ('60s Motown, '80s jangle, '90s slacker), the duo crafts little masterpieces with surprising variety. The North Carolina multi-instrumentalists add vocals while servicing the music with a balance that is itself the art at which they excel. At their best, they harbor a preternatural sense of when to step it up, when to watch from the couch and when to quietly peek up the hallway from the back bedroom. Though copiously copping from various indie touchstones, the results are not (as one might expect) Yo La Tengo so much as the Vaselines bopping across Britpop's dance floor.

The opening track of Make Out is a direct descendant of mid-'80s college rock; the rest is mostly soft skronk owing more to Hoodoo Gurus via the Shins than Let's Active. Garage-band-with-keyboards structures amply propel unassuming but mildly catchy songs, vocally dominated by Howard. In retrospect, the set is a hint of things to come ("Big Heartbreak"), though the Jonathan Richman-like innocence is effective.

The transitional Unwind EP features slightly surfy jangle-pop and the Frank & Walters honesty of the building/climaxing "El Camino." "Is There Room?" and "I'd Feel Better Now" breathe air similar to Neutral Milk Hotel or Beulah.

The first two releases were classicist pop, but Birds Make Good Neighbors still seems to come out of nowhere (if not Scotland). The Rosebuds are now confident, proud and ready to use a wider palette, from the you-better-believe-we're-earnest "Boxcar" (think New Order) to the Morricone-baiting "Leaves Do Fall" (think "Ghost Riders in the Sky"). "Outnumbered" mixes reverb-soaked twang and strummed etherealism. "The Lover's Rights" shimmers down like shards of safety glass. Quite entertaining.

With the analog synths warmed-up and ready (and the guitars sunk in the mix), Night of the Furies dons the day-glo and steps right into mid-'80s Britain. The atmosphere-setting "My Punishment for Fighting" stands somewhere between the Fixx, Re-flex and Tears for Fears. With lusher orchestration than on previous outings, "Cemetery Lawns" is tempered almost begrudgingly. The Human League-ish "I Better Run" is the first appearance of the previous album's clever arrangements and, with that, the album takes a turn for the better. Both the title track and "Get Up Get Out" could be lost New Order tracks. "Silence by the Lakeside" is blithely haunting, while "Hold On to This Coat" beautifully layers '80s new wave, '90s shoegaze and '00s indie-folk. The darkwave of Joy Division is acknowledged in "When the Lights Went Dim." Less precise than Birds, but a successful visit to specific territory.

[Jay Pattyn]