The Raveonettes – PE’AHI
Review by Nick Nihil
One of the most basic elements of composing music, one of the easiest to understand conceptually yet hardest to master, is theme and variation; the method of performing a passage, a melody, a theme, and then returning to it while evolving it, looking at it through a different angle of a prism, changing rhythm, harmony, dynamic, etc. The Raveonettes have proven slyly adept at this fundamental concept, taking 1960s three chord ideas and bubblegum hooks, running them through the potentially gimmicky aesthetic of shoegazey, recording preamp overdriven sheets of buzzsaw fuzz and electronic drums, and creating what by all accounts should be short-lived niche music that leaves no impression beyond a pleasant time killer.
Yet for the better part of the past decade they’ve avoided falling into the trapping of cool kids’ party music. Rebounding from their lackluster Observator while evolving some of the sonic elements they explored on that release, this album kicks with the energy, urgency Observator lacked, recapturing the captivating magic of Lust Lust Lust and Raven in the Grave, adding new wrinkles and approaches to their songwriting in the process. They’re as abrasive as they’ve ever sounded (possibly to the point of discomfort for some) – this is the most aggressive the guitars have sounded, but they’re balanced by increasingly present and lush synth textures. The juxtaposing of decadent imagery and sweet hooks feels less an exercise as some palpable anger and personal demons come to the fore. Unexpected breaks drops, and changes to tempo and feel punctuate throughout, serving to keep the songs just unpredictable and fresh. Sune Rose Wagner is a terribly underrated guitarist – he’s one of the finest guitar arrangers in rock today and his melodic and textural sensibilities are strong enough to separate The Raveonettes from their peers and influences (trust me, listen closely to “My Time’s Up,” “Breaking Into Cars,” and “Dead Sound” if you don’t believe me). The man is a master at phrasing a simple melody and letting it speak for itself, unembellished.
“A Hell Below” demonstrates the full integration of their recent explorations into their established strengths. While song for song, this isn’t as strong a record as Raven in the Grave, arguably their finest work, they’ve still managed to sidestep the gimmicky trappings of their aesthetic and produced another affecting work. “Sisters” is as beautifully cathartic sonic blitzkrieg as they’ve recorded. “Kill!” might be their darkest track to date, with little pretense to any sugary pop to balance the grimy, almost atonal fuzz and kick-you-in-the-dick beat. It’s this and a few other stark tracks undermine the summertime surf vibe implied by the album title and a number of other tracks. The closer, “When Summer Ends,” trades the wistful longing, romance, and resignation of tracks like “Wine” and “My Time’s Up” for a pissed off, fist-flailing protest of unreasonable rage that threatens to take the sun and sky with them to the bottom of the sea. It kicks in rudely, intent on getting the last word in and leaves with the abruptness of that final slamming of a door. Yeah, this album will still conjure up images of surfing against a romantic evening sky, but that ocean may damn well be on fire.