[T]he thing about the ocean, as plenty of others have observed before, is that as big as it is, the part we see most often is just the top. And yet the ocean’s surface has inspired no end of contemplation. On Sand + Silence, the Rosebuds’ newest album, the ocean’s waves are likened to a “city of moving lips.” The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda – one of the ocean’s more fervid admirers – likewise observes in his poem, “Ode to the Sea,” the steady murmur of the waves and hears within them a restless ambivalence. For the Rosebuds’ Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, however, these same murmurs beckon the listener to wade in. The water is a place of release, and the uncertainty and tension of Sand + Silence that recalls Neruda’s poem instead comes from the relationship between the ocean and the quiet beach the album’s name suggests.
The title track and “Give Me A Reason” both wrestle with restraint and desire from the shore, but it’s “Blue Eyes” that first escapes its claustrophobic brooding for the temporary surrender to a summer fling. Awash in Motown buoyancy,the relationship is, unsurprisingly, lost as quickly as it’s found, taking less than three minutes to move from “swimming” in the eyes of a new lover to a distinctly liminal state – half on the shore, half in the water; half awake, half asleep – not quite right back at the beginning as much as everywhere and nowhere all at once.
If the romance of “Blue Eyes” was doomed from the start, it is because it was built on the flawed conceit that something complex as a relationship can be made to be simple. The search for simplicity at times carries over to the instrumentation as well. There’s a stark breeziness to many of the songs that often sounds reminiscent of 2005’s Birds Make Good Neighbors but occasionally strips away whole decades of influence altogether. Going back even earlier than the aforementioned Motown influences, “Walking” makes use of Bo Diddley’s eponymous beat, a rhythm that even in modern contexts never fails to evoke rock’s early history. “Looking For,” for its part, is built around a high-plinking piano line that wouldn’t sound out of place at George McFly’s pre-rock (or at least pre-Chuck Berry rock) Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
Those two songs in particular foreground their (overly) romanticized notions of simplicity by seeming like they come from an earlier musical era. The band finds a simplicity of far greater depth in “Esse Quam Videri,” a title that translates to “to be rather than seem.” While this is the official motto of the band’s home state, it is also the answer to the questions posed during the desultory strolls on the beach at the beginning of the album. It’s a disarmingly straightforward philosophy, but the baptismal rebirth it provides is the reason for the propulsive optimism of “Death of An Old Bike,” the album’s most self-assured track. Here, the prior restraint is replaced with patience and confidence, leaving behind the self-destructiveness of “Blue Eyes” for something still inchoate yet promising nonetheless if for no other reason that it reframes simplicity as a starting point rather than a goal in and of itself.
Since Howard and Crisp arrived with their debut, Make Out, as wide-eyed newlyweds, the Rosebud’s music has often been understood through the story of their relationship. It is certainly defensible to read Sand + Silence and its self-discovery according to the narrative of the couple’s divorce, but it’s also a reductive, surface-level reading.The album is every bit for the divorcee as it is for anyone who has experienced a different need to start over, be it with a romantic relationship, as the songs tend to focus on, or in broader more existential ways. The ocean metaphor is powerful not just because of the interplay between depth and surface or even of holding back and jumping in but because its surface is by its nature a constant tumult of churning waves, each new one replacing that which came before it – a surface caught in an ever present state of starting over.
By the end of “Ode to the Sea,” Neruda has moved from the ocean’s surface to its depth, conflating it with the depth of man and suggesting that “in our very selves / in the struggle, / is fish, is bread, / is the miracle.” While it seems reckless and dangerous at first, the Rosebuds’ ocean eventually becomes as sublime and life-giving as Neruda wills his to be. Sand + Silence, in striving to be rather than to merely seem, discovers its miracle in its message – that starting over requires leaving the shore and exploring the depths that exist within ourselves. It’s an important one to take to heart if only because these depths, like those of the ocean, are the part most of us rarely ever see.