Monday, September 10, 2012

REVIEW: The Ravonettes - Observator

Few bands in the last couple of decades have emerged with a sound that enthralled and captivated me to the extent of Danish duo The Raveonettes.  From the opening strains of "Attack of the Ghost Riders" from the Whip It On EP, I was convinced that Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo liked what I like in music.  Ten years later with the release of Observator, their sixth full-length, I continue to find some of my most satisfying musical moments in world of The Raveonettes.  Don't misunderstand, the sound of Observator is not the three-chord stylish minimalism of the first couple albums.  But it also isn't a rejection of the sensibilities that were evident in the The Raveonettes' explosion on the scene in 2002.  The group's commitment to surfy, layered, reverb-heavy guitars, Spectorish walls of sound, primarily female lead vocals, a Buddy Holly simplicity to the melody and a distinct, but straightforward, rhythm structure remain.  What is changed, to my mind, simply reflects life.  The lives of Wagner and Foo have become more complex, layered and exposed to the darkness we all see as we live and age.  As artists, their experience is reflected in their music.  Of course, a nod to the dark and rough side was always a part of the lyrical themes.  But in the early years, it felt to be as much of a stylistic choice as it was a commentary.  Certainly now, and perhaps beginning as far back as 2008's Lust, Lust, Lust, Wagner and Foo are consciously examining, rather that iconizing, darker themes.  Accordingly, limitations, self-destructive tendencies, disappointments, despair, and death are present, as well as the redemption and triumph we all strive to find when faced with defeat.  And the sound is more complex as well, with additional guitar layers, synths and, for the first time, a piano.  While that the sound is glorious, I think it is more important to note that the current version of The Raveonettes transcends their stylish garage pop beginnings; they may now be the best dream pop band in pop music today.

The album starts out with a challenge to expectations, a stripped-down Americana song with a piano as the featured instrument.  Didn't expect that, did you?

The album's atmosphere turns darker and denser on "Observations", and the excellent following track, "Curse the Night".

But the pace and tone tick up appreciably with jangle/dream pop of "The Enemy", the rocking "Sinking with the Sun", and the following tracks.  And perhaps because I'm an optimist,  it is the sixth track that sums up the album for me.  "She Owns the Streets" is inspired by a New York performance artist.  The song celebrates the notion of following your own path, and defining triumph and success on your own terms.  Even more special, the official video feature the subject artist, as well as cameos by Sune and Sharin.

On Observator The Raveonettes continue to merge their own Scandinavian take on American music with a willingness to explore the possibilities of electronica.  Happily, the hallmarks of their career career remain: Sune is a great guitarist; Sharin is a note-perfect performer; and both have an impeccable feel for style.  At the end of the road, when a two or three disc Greatest Hits of The Raveonettes is released, it will justifiably include several songs from Observator.  For now, it simply is one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Observator is released tomorrow, September 11, on Vice Records.

Twitter ( @theraveonettes )

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