As far as indie-rock couples go, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp — the songwriting duo behind Raleigh, N.C.'s Rosebuds — have evolved from Mates of State-style immediacy to a Yo La Tengo level of bliss. But from the hook-a-minute guitar-pop honeymoon that was 2003 debut The Rosebuds Make Out to 2007 new-wave excursion Night of the Furies, the Rosebuds haven't followed anyone's fakebook but their own.
Their fourth album Life Like is the band's most varied collection to date, balancing the stylistic tendencies of singer/guitarist Howard and keyboardist/singer Crisp: They spent formative years absorbing anthemic '90s indie rock (Guided By Voices, Superchunk) but, deep down, they're Cure-loving Southern goths. The title track slinks in with an Interpol bass thud and bleak guitar chime, while "Black Hole" finds Crisp cooing in an echo chamber of drum machine and synth. At times, it seems as if the Rosebuds have made a shoegaze album without actually using the genre's vertigo-inducing effects pedals. The ethereal-pop vibe rarely persists more than a couple songs, however, before the album is grounded with a sing-along acoustic-guitar strummer such as "Nice Fox" or the carefree, whistled-melody score "Hello Darlin."
So what, if anything, holds Life Like together? The songs are loosely inspired by family stories and local folklore; parse the lyrics to the title track, for example, and you can interpret it as a song about a Sasquatch/wildman living in the Carolina pines. Beyond that, Life Like is bound by a persistent air of dark mystery, creeping romance and dream-state reverie — which, oddly enough, is not like real life at all.