The Raveonettes: The Observator
For me The Raveonettes have always been a take it or leave it band. Some of what they do moves me and some of it slips off my radar as hipster themes played through eccentric fuzz. The band’s latest album, The Observator, shows the band taking a small step away from what we’ve come to expect, with beautiful results. There’s always been something dingily gorgeous in The Raveonettes work but here they expand on melodies and enter keys into the picture. Nothing on The Observator betrays what the band has done in the past. This feels more like they noticed some other instruments in the studio and decided to include them.
I’m a sucker for any album that sparks an emotion or a narrative. I’ve listened to so much music that, as Morrissey once said, “If I had a natural emotion I’d get so shocked I’d probably jump in the ocean”. The opening strum of “Young And Cold” brought my mind to a lonely parking lot, lights dimming and a young man or woman sitting in their car contemplating a break up. The Raveonettes play a little more vague with their lyrics on The Observator, which allows you to invest your own ideas. The density of what they do is still there in the hum of feedback that sits behind “Young And Cold” and the slightly over biased vocals. Balancing that is the gentle acoustic guitar and the occasional piano.
Imagery plays a bigger part in The Observator than older Raveonettes albums, which might have to do with Sune Rose Wagner’s recent Door obsession and the fact that they recorded the album where The Doors also laid down tracks. “Observations” opens with the line “To live like other people I never think I’ll do and so my love I give into this dark”. Sune sings that phrase over a haunting piano line and the imagery just comes flooding into you. “Observations” is a darker song, and the mix of piano and hollow fuzzed guitars is killer. By now I was hooked into this beast for the long haul.
The Observator sticks with very simple song structures, almost like children’s tunes. I say that not as an insult but rather to instill just how catchy these songs are. “Curse The Night” starts with an uncomplicated drum beat and guitar line that could be involved with any children’s composition. When the vocals open up the combination is absolutely magical. Sune and Sharin’s voices move into each other for the delightful chorus, which is juxtaposed against the crushing lyrics.
“The Enemy” is one of the stronger tracks. While The Raveonettes stick hard to their fuzzy tones, here the guitars are open, almost airy. Sonically the music takes on a dream like state uplifted by Sharin’s syrup sweet vocals. As she sings of a lost love where she feels like the enemy, Sune’s guitars swoop down and then elevate the entire tune as they open back up. It took me at least six passes to move beyond “The Enemy”. “Sinking With The Sun” is a return to form with its mid-tempo vibe and blitz of hazy distortion. “She Owns The Streets” is another straightforward Raveonettes song flanked by saturated guitars.
“Downtown” is a second giant amongst the other tunes. It could be proven to be a perfect pop song. Catchy guitar riffs play over easy drums pushing the verse, chorus, verse that will instantly have you singing along. You can’t deny the melodies on “Downtown”. If you love the band or despise them, what Sune and Sharin do on this song is undeniable. If you turn away from it you have no ear for pleasing melodies.
Endings of a record can be the sweet spot or the death of it. The Raveonettes end strong with “Till The End” by reminding us of their retro sixties garage vibe. “You Hit Me (I’m Down)” uses the light vocal airs of sixties garage pop but with a touch of country to it. “Till The End” is a straightforward rocker, well, in the terms of The Raveonettes anyway.
The Raveonettes have always been pieces and parts of other bands. A bit of Velvet Underground, a dash of My Bloody Valentine, Folk Implosion, Magnetic Fields and a light dusting of Jesus And Mary Chain. Those elements are alive and well in The Observator but something new is happening. I don’t know if the “step out of convention” will stick with the band after this album, but I hope it does. Few bands can write catchy and then blend that with melancholy and disillusioned the way The Raveonettes can. If they bring more instruments and vocal tricks into that fold, the results will tap into something extraordinary for them as artists and us as fans.