Published on July 28th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Raveonettes – Pe’ahi
The Raveonettes knock out their best album in awhile — it also happens to be one of the best fuzz pop records of the year.
Sometimes I take risks. I drive through a yellow light. I drink milk that expired the day before. I don’t use that plastic divider in the line up at the grocery store. The new Raveonettes’ album is all about taking risks in order to survive. To lean close to danger in order to feel the blood thumping in your skull. Sune Rose Wagner, the male half of the Danish duo (alongside tall blonde Sharin Foo), nearly died surfing in Hawaii a few years ago, hence the strange name of their new album, ‘Pe’ahi.’ Pe’ahi is a surfing spot on the north shore of Maui with a big wave break so massive they call it Jaws, surely, a place where hazard and chance frequently intersect.
I’ve been a fan of The Raveonettes since about 2003, when my buddy gave me 2002’s ‘Whip it On’ and 2003’s ‘Chain Gang of Love’ together on one CD. It was raw and noisy, a switchblade-wielding greaser in a clattering echo chamber, a mess of passion and guts. Their third album ‘Pretty in Black’ took a dive in quality, and their later output was always strong, but never really reached the same lofty heights as ‘Chain Gang of Love’ (with the exception of their four-song Christmas EP; it’s a lovely, icy companion to the Yuletide season). The long and short of it is, they are usually great, but for me at least, they had settled into an, “okay, sure, there’s a new Raveonettes’ album” place, where you’d take a listen, then consign it to the depths of your music collection, only to surface again on an unplanned shuffle. That said, 2011’s ‘Raven in the Grave’ was a step above some of the other later albums, and closer to the sound of that Christmas EP, perhaps because they had taken a glum turn that deepened their sonic lore a bit.
Now, that brief history of Raveonettes’ time (and my arguable position) aside, Pe’ahi is the album I’ve been waiting for them to release. Sure, it still sounds like The Raveonettes, as it should — but they’ve taken the noise and energy of their initial albums and seamlessly blended it with the grown up songwriting and moodier elements of ‘Raven in the Grave.’ It’s not as raw as the howling wind tunnel riffs of ‘Chain Gang,’ but it’s thick with fuzz, like a milkshake you can’t stir with a straw. It’s dark and dangerous, like the switchblade on the album cover, but also holds soaring melodies in place, not afraid to drop a twinkly sound or a breakbeat in there (and the drums really stand out — the beats drive many of the songs).
As fellow music scribe Adrien Begrand pointed out to me, it was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the Orson Welles golden boy that’s worked with acts like Beck, Air, and most notably and comparably here, M83. Meldal-Johnsen brings the same precision and insane dynamics to Pe’ahi that he flexed out on M83’s ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.’ Songs roar like a jet engine, and then suddenly drop out to reveal wide open spaces. The Raveonettes have always been good with dynamics, but Meldal-Johnsen pushes them into entirely new ways of thinking about it.
A lot of times in reviews of bands that have been around awhile, I’ll comment that I’d rather just go back and listen to a band’s seminal work if they’re not really going to do anything that different on their latest, uninspired work. But ‘Pe’ahi’ flies in the face of that thinking. Not only does it carry the same strengths as the early Raveonettes’ records we all fell in love with, but it also finds them building on their later moods and swaggering into uncharted territory. It’s worth taking a risk and hitching a ride with them to explore this brave, new sound. I don’t know if Sune Rose Wagner really needs life and death risk to keep moving forward, but what I do know is that this is the best The Raveonettes have sounded in awhile.