Garage-rockers no longer, Danish duo add a variety of unexpected elements
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.
Opener “Endless Sleeper” kicks off with the rhythm that apes the Doors’ “Break on Through” almost note-for-note, before quickly veering into that sweet-melody-buried-in-fuzz mentioned above. Follow-up tune “Sisters” takes this approach to the extreme, with a battering ram of distortion nearly drowning Foo’s wispy vocals. Alternating between barrages of noise and almost a cappella segments (in which the singer is accompanied by a harp), “Sisters” is an arresting four minutes, even as its low-tech guitar solo works to its end.
This is followed immediately by the crackle and hiss of “Killer in the Streets”, which despite its sinister title maintains a bouncy, summertime vibe. It’s worth mentioning that Foo’s vocals remain almost indistinguishable throughout the record, which tends to undermine some of the more arresting song titles, among them “A Hell Below” and the alarm-inducing “Kill!” If Foo’s voice is largely overwhelmed by the production, what remains front and center are the guitars and keyboards, with basslines generally competent but not propulsive (an exception being the appealing bounce of “Killer in the Streets”) and the the drums serviceable, rather than being an integral part of the song.
The middle of the record sags somewhat. “Wake Me Up” aims, perhaps, for ethereal dreaminess, with its layered vocals and meandering melody, but the metronomic percussion and in-your-face orchestration is too jarring for the effect to succeed. “Z-Boys” is more successful at what it does, but its fuzzed-out pop stylings, while comfortable, feel all too familiar. It’s not a bad song, it’s just a song that you feel like you’ve heard a thousand time already, and it brings little new to the table.
Later in the album things pick up a bit. Processed drums kick off the above-mentioned “Kill!” and keep things moving along throughout, leaving the hyper-distorted guitars to embellish the tune rather than propel it. Added to this are some truly unexpected lyrics, which, as mentioned, are largely incomprehensible, but occasionally jump out at the listener: “One time I saw my dad fuck a redhead whore,” Foo intones, “I never ever thought I would." Okay, that gets my attention… Along with the shuffling percussion and distorted synth lines, “Kill!” is one of the more arresting tracks here.
“When the Night Is Almost Done” slows the proceedings down to pop-dirge territory, if that makes any sense, while keeping the (intentionally) sloppy sonic brew bubbling along with its mix of tinkling keyboards and gurgling synths – and, yes, those sweetly melodic vocals – while “Summer Ends” closes out the album with a straightforward rock and roll song: strong vocals, thrumming bass, pounding percussion and waves of guitar. It’s a solid way to close the album, and reminds the listener that when they want to, the Raveonettes haven’t forgotten how to put their heads down and just plain rock.