The Raveonettes

Observator

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On their 2012 album Observator, the Raveonettes take a step back from the darkly gloomy, intricately produced sound of 2009's Raven in the Grave for something stripped-down and much more intimate. With the help of longtime mentor Richard Gottehrer, the duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo spends a portion of the album taking apart the band's guitar-heavy sound and reassembling it piece by piece, sometimes leaving things out (like the drums in "Young and Cold") and sometimes adding new elements (the hip-hop drum loop on "Curse the Night" or the stately piano in "Observations"). The carefully half-finished-sounding production works to bring out facets of the Raveonettes that are usually easy to overlook, like their often stunning vocal harmonies and the strength of their melodies. The first half of the album is made up of these precisely arranged songs and it provides an interesting sonic departure that only gives more power to the noise pop that makes up the bulk of the second half of Observator. Even those songs have some quirks that the duo's earlier work didn't have, and the noise and fuzz are much more arranged. "You Hit Me (I'm Down)" has a sophisticated yet simple arrangement that sounds like a wonderful combination of their early work and Raven; "She Owns the Street" frames Wagner's poignant vocals with a misty, twangy haze of guitar; and "The Enemy" has a cheesy drum machine pulse that contrasts nicely with the grey wall of guitars and Foo's open-hearted vocal. The songs that are the most straightforward and traditionally Raveonettes-sounding, like the ultra-hooky "Downtown" and "Till the End," benefit from the off-kilter production and arrangements, too. The whole record has the feel of being quickly recorded yet fully thought-out, and it's one of their best albums to date. From starting out as almost a novelty act, the Raveonettes have grown into a band that constantly surprises listeners and takes chances that almost always pay off, while still retaining a core sound that is unmistakably theirs alone. Plus, as Observator proves again and again, they write really, really good moody pop songs. The record may not be their masterpiece, but it is an important piece of a surprisingly strong career.

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