Saturday 26 July 2014

The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi

Album review by KevW

It wasn't us missing the boat that led to The Raveonettes' new album 'Pe'ahi' arriving without any fanfare; the band chose not to go for much in the way of advance promotion or a release date, opting to put out their latest as a "surprise" album. Storming first single 'Sisters' dropped out of nowhere a week before, and that was the first that the outside world knew about the record. That track with its mixture of grace, fuzz and mild orchestration means it remains one of their more impressive and easily absorbed singles. The line "smiling faces always pretend" could be a metaphor for 'Pe'ahi' itself. Named after a popular surfing spot in Hawaii, boasting a cover that's a little less black than normal, incorporating a lusher sounds (including choirs and harps) and a new producer in Justin Meldal-Johnsen, this could be The Raveonettes bidding farewell to their seedy, nocturnal existence and heading for the beach.

Such a transformation would never suit Denmark's finest musical pairing though, and when you delve a little deeper you realise that, aside from the more sweeping production, staccato touches and bigger electronic beats found on, say, 'Wake Me Up', all is not well in paradise, however glorious the music sounds. Following the death of his father last year, frontman Sune Rose Wagner decamped to California and took to surf culture as a way of dealing with the sudden grief. Final track and highlight 'Summer Ends' tackles this subject head-on. The guitars still twang, the melodies are still sweet, Sharin Foo's combined vocal is still there, but a somewhat fractured relationship is revealed, despite the fact that his father is now "chasing angels up in heaven". Their sometimes difficult relationship is documented further on 'Kill!', a beat-heavy, screeching number that shows the band at their most electronic, and statements like "one time I saw my dad fuck a redhead whore, I never ever thought I would" paint a less than homely existence, as the music edges closer to the harder end of trip-hop (the more tender 'Wake Me Up' sticks to that genre, but chooses its more majestic elements). Despite this, there's something touching about the simple line "never gonna see you again".

So 'Pe'ahi' isn't 'The Raveonettes Do Summer!' then. Opening with 'Endless Sleeper', a song that takes their retro influences (it's Buddy Holly meets JAMC, as they've done so many times), and adds lyrics about the time in 2008 when Sune was nearly drowned in an accident. This may all point towards a morbid and perhaps even off-putting album, but the music is stunningly beautiful at times, especially the breaks for piano or vocals to shine as the scuzz clears for a few seconds. Raveonettes albums have always talked about life dealing you a bad hand, and this is no different, but with a slightly altered musical approach, the monochrome sound often associated with their output lifts more often, and while distortion and classic melodies are the order of the day, this does have a fresh feel and the new additions mark it out as a potential change of direction (if only by a couple of degrees). The upbeat 'Killer In The Street' is more layered and gives us a splash more funk in the beat and the bass; you could nearly call it baggy-noir; 'Z-Boys' and 'A Hell Below' could both make for classy singles. With so little time for most people to have got to know any of these songs, 'Pe'ahi' is continuing to grow in stature, and it stands out as perhaps one of the best in their now sizable canon. The fuzz remains the same, but those personal touches and that extra sprinkling of magic lift this album that little bit higher than you may be anticipating.

The Raveonettes' website

Buy the album

Stream the album in full

Catch them live:

Sep 22 Bimbo's 365 Club, San Francisco, CA
Sep 23 The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
Sep 24 El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Sep 26 Double Door, Chicago, IL
Sep 27 Midpoint Music Festival, Cincinnati, OH
Sep 29 Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Sep 30 Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Oct 01 Black Cat, Washington, DC

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