Beat Dies Records
It’s interesting how a band that some initially slagged as a gimmick has been working steadily for more than a decade. The unannounced release of Pe’ahi is the Raveonettes’ eighth record in 12 years. The Danish duo dropped their 8-song EP, Whip It On, during the much-hyped “garage rock revival” of the early 2000s. That record and their first proper LP were recorded entirely in the key of B-flat. The covers of both albums featured slick, black-and-white portraits of guitarist-singer Sune Rose Wagner and bassist-singer Sharin Foo against backdrops of ’50-era noir font. (Hence, the accusations of gimmickry). The pair continued their distillation of atmospheric distortion á la Velvet Underground, noisy swells of the Jesus and Mary Chain, and ’60-era melody into their next several records. These releases were often described as “dark” and “moody,” which makes sense – taken on their own. However, Pe’ahi is so stark in its anguish that it makes the Raveonettes’ previous albums sound like Meet the Care Bears. None of the tracks comes close to the jaunty “Downtown” of 2012’s Observator or the rollicking “You Want the Candy” from 2008’s Lust Lust Lust.
Named after a spot on the north shore of Maui, the cover of Pe’ahi features a simple switchblade smack dab in the center of a blue-green backdrop. That’s about right. The truly dark lyrics of bubbling anger and resigned sadness permeate every track over intricate arrangements and washes of surf rock. Hell, two of the songs have ‘kill’ in the title. And that doesn’t even nick the surface. Perhaps to lure us in, the opening “Endless Sleeper” bears the closest resemblance to the Raveonettes’ previous work. Clean guitar arpeggios intersperse with a catchy yet feedback-laden chord progression. Undercurrents of buzzing weave in and out of the distortion throughout the rest of the album. A harp is strummed angrily under the fuzzed-out “Sisters” and a solid bass lick grounds “Killer in the Streets” with Sune singing “got no secrets/ I got no friends.” The next track, “Wake Me Up” twinkles and gleans under sweet woodwinds with Sune telling us “When I was a boy/ I’d go home from school alone/ and wait for you/ you never showed/ you never showed/ I’d sit and wait/ so patiently.” Sune is likely talking about his father, who died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve of 2013. The club-worthy “Kill!” leaves nothing to interpretation: under a slippery beat box and propulsive force, Sune sings in a childlike voice, “I never met my dad in a loving dream/ smiling in the moonless night/ one time I saw my dad/ fuck a redhead whore.” The anger continues to the bitter end. The very last lyrics of the final track, “Summer,” feature high-pitched staccato notes stabbed over Sune’s weary tenor: “I hate your guts/ why don’t you just die/ leave me alone/ very well/ bye.” While Pe’ahi showcases the Raveonettes stepping up their musical prowess, don’t expect to land comfortably along the shore.