With last year’s Raven in the Grave, Danish duo the Raveonettes made a conscious effort to step out of their fuzz-pop comfort zone and into a more atmosphere-based goth world. While decent levels of pop pierced through nonetheless, Raven showed a more restrained side of the band we hadn’t seen since Pretty in Black. However, being restrained isn’t what the Raveonettes are all about.
Observator sits squarely in the middle of the three distinct paths they’ve taken on their most recent albums. It retains some of the ambience of Raven, pops it up towards the sugar-coating of 2009’s In and Out of Control and raises the fuzz levels back up, but granted not to the amount found on 2008’s Lust Lust Lust.
Due to some interesting sequencing, the middle of the album has the biggest block of noise-pop hits. “Sinking With the Sun” buzzes and bops along with chiming guitars overtop as Wagner and Foo trade the chorus line back and forth. “She Owns the Streets” dials in a brisk walking tempo, cranks the ‘verb and finds the duo bouncing vox off each other again in classic girl-group fashion. Then immediately it’s “Downtown,” which blitzes through several verses and choruses with no-nonsense efficiency, even chopping measures down to 2/4 just to cram an important “uh-woah-oh” in and move right along.
While there is still plenty of drum machine/manufactured beats (as is their MO), organic instruments grab more of the spotlight on this album. Gone are the '80s synths, in are the pianos. Electric guitar heads to the back, acoustic steps up front. Earlier this year they teased us with the Into the Night EP, but in retrospect those tunes seem more like B-sides that would have been out of place had they plunked ‘em in here, with the guitars up louder and the drum beats harder than found in this set. This fuzz is not Lust fuzz dominating the track, it’s a gentle white noise, sitting comfortably behind a surfy lead, menacing piano (“Observations”), or acoustic guitar (“Young and Cold”). Electrics still shine of course, as chorus pedals jangle “The Enemy” right into my heart.
On Raven, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo experimented with dissonance. They’d always been noisy, but kept the harmonies real purrrty until that record. There is a pinch of those unsettling note clashes on songs here, like on "Curse the Night,” where we find Foo singing in a very wispy and shy high register, not her usual sure-footed pop style, over a noodly guitar line. The confident chorus makes up for this minor weak point on the album.
While not making a bold artistic attempt at new territory, Observator sums up the Raveonettes in a nice tidy package, like a "Greatest Hits" that happens to be all new songs. Another high quality batch of songs that shows all the younger noisy bands how it’s done.