Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: The Orchard Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Noise Pop
What, did you think musical ambushes like these were purely the preserve of megastars like Beyoncé? To be fair, as much as The Raveonettes have never been too far behind the curve, they’ve historically taken most of their cues from the likes of The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain; there’s always been a real pop sensibility to their work, but I’m not convinced I can see them citing chart-pop titans like the self-styled Mrs. Carter as serious influences any time soon, even if they’ve obviously picked up on what a neat idea dropping a record without fanfare is. That’s not to say, though, that Pe’ahi isn’t a departure.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "I'm sick of writing entire albums, because I just don't see a point to it anymore...I have no interest in making 12 songs that fit together." Thus spoke Sune Rose Wagner last spring when I sat down with him and bandmate Sharin Foo to discuss The Raveonettes' past, present and future. The Danes' most recent record Observator was barely six months old, but Wagner's frustration with the grind of a traditional release cycle was palpable, his desire to break the mould set in stone.
The Raveonettes' late career run of excellent work continues on 2014's Pe'ahi, an album that blends the heady rush of their early records with the sophisticated arrangements and darker moods of their 2010s stuff. Building on the more intricate and thoughtful approach of 2012's Observator, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo craft a sound that's full of the duo's expected overdriven-to-the-point-of-breaking guitars, but also has lots of breathtaking dynamics and more focus on beats and rhythms than usual. Whether it's the canned bossa nova beats of "Endless Sleeper," the pounding hip-hop swagger of "Sisters" and "KiIl!," or the Zeppelin-esque thunder of "Summer," the drums anchor and propel the songs in a powerful fashion.
The Raveonettes‘ latest album arrives with a distinct lack of fanfare. It’s had little build up, little precursory spiel, very little in the way of the expectation building cycle you’d normally expect. Still, if that approach has recently proven good enough for albums from David Bowie and Beyoncé, it’s surely good enough for anyone. What is abundantly clear is that the reasoning behind keeping it on the down-low is definitely not related to sneaking out any great stylistic shift.
There may come a day when we no longer need new material from The Raveonettes but that is not this day. Pe'ahi came out as a surprise release, appearing out of the blue, and what a pleasant surprise it was. The Danish duo is back to the fuzzed-out distortion which made their name after a brief foray into the more subdued songs on their last two records, 2011's Raven in the Grave and 2012's Observator.
Danish two-piece garage-rock stalwarts the Raveonettes are back with their seventh full-length album, Pe’ahi, which sees the band moving well beyond the retro-garage roots exemplified in such albums as their debut LP, Chain Gang of Love. Pe’ahi sees bassist/primary vocalist Sharin Foo and multi-instrumentalist Sun Rose Wagner dabbling in girl-group pop and vaguely techno beats, among other other unexpected sounds like harp and xylophone. Despite their varied approach, though, these songs remain pop nuggets with hummable melodies, swathed in layers of distortion but maintaining their sweet appeal underneath.
Times got tough on The Raveonettes’ chain gang of love. 2012’s ‘Observator’ was inspired by a three-day drug bender that guitarist Sune Rose Wagner threw himself into to battle depression caused by a back injury, and their seventh album ‘Pe’ahi’ – as the titular reference to Hawaii’s nosebleed surf beach suggests – rides even greater breakers of emotion. “This old wave is gonna drag you down to the black where you always end up”, Sune sings on closer ‘Summer Ends’, while opener ‘Endless Sleeper’ sets the tone: their classic ’60s wall-of-sound garage-pop laced with a sophisticated Parisian swing and then piled thick with filthy, dense layers of Mary Chain fuzz as bassist and singer Sharin Foo laments the loss of Sune’s father: “How do you wake when your sleep it is endless?” Not that ‘Pe’ahi’ is a white-washed elegy.
A decade on, it’s safe to conclude that the quality of the Raveonettes’ albums depends on a unifying concept. The pair of records that kicked off their career, the Whip It On! EP and Chain Gang of Love, were lurid, cinematic, and written entirely in single keys; career highlight Lust Lust Lust was a raw, roaring response to the band’s play for wider recognition, a failed gambit built around their second album Pretty in Black. These albums weren’t major stylistic departures or markedly more ambitious than the rest of their work, but they succeeded because they pitted the Raveonettes’ basic proposition—simple pop songs and sweet melodies, coated in layers of malicious fuzz and laden with comically dark lyrics—against clearly defined rules and boundaries.
“Crank the distortion,” isn’t a direction you’d likely hear in most recording studio situations, but along with “make it sound like a record being played with a worn stylus” that seems to be what was expressed when the Raveonettes recorded this, the duo’s eighth album in just over a decade. Those familiar with the band’s established reverb heavy approach will find this to be another impressive entry into their catalog. But the album, named after a local on the Hawaiian island of Maui known for its intense surf and sketchy, often drug addled visitors, is a slight departure.
The Raveonettes begin their seventh studio album with the same beat that opened The Doors’ first. The first lyrics that follow are “I have sand in my shoes and death on my mind.” If that’s not enough to situate you, the Danish duo (who now reside in Los Angeles) helpfully named the record after the north shore of Maui. Pe’ahi is a Pacific album through and through, and it doesn’t stop reveling in buzzed-out West Coast noir until it wraps things up with a tune called “Summer Ends”, in case you had any lingering hopes that anything gold could stay.
The Raveonettes are a perfect example of a band that could have burned bright and flamed out. Their debut EP, 2002’s “Whip It On,” helped lay the bedrock for that era’s guitar-rock revival, and while their contemporaries have come and gone, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo soldier on. Each new release has tweaked their formula, but their latest is an all-out attempt to rip up the blueprint altogether.
The Raveonettes have been doing this modern day Lou Reed/Nico-meets-Shangri-Las-meets-1991-shoegaze thing for over a decade now, and despite them now being one of those ‘Are they still going?’ bands with their chart bothering days (well, top 75 days) firmly behind them (apart from in their Danish homeland where they continue to be a top 10 concern), they continue releasing records - surprisingly, Pe’ahi is their seventh. 2005’s Pretty In Black album and accompanying single “Love In A Trashcan” both remain career high points, and it’s a template that has been steadfastly adhered to ever since. The only real deviation from the kohl smeared glamour, surf twang riffs, Jesus and Mary Chain white noise and girl group pop was their much maligned and under-rated 2009 album, In And Out Of Control, a long player packed with candy coated razor blades.