It’s dusk and you’re walking down the Manhattan Beach Pier. Looking out at the never-ending ocean, you remember the tumultuous summer that just ended, the summer where you lost your significant other to mere circumstance. The sun is finally swallowed by the ocean and you’re left alone with your futile thoughts as you finally accept the bleak reality of life.
Sound like the plot to a 1950s film noir? Close enough. It’s actually the film that plays in your mind when listening to The Raveonettes’ delectably desolate new album, Observator.
Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner make up the critically acclaimed The Raveonettes, and the Danish duo has become a fixture in the indie-pop, neo-garage rock movement.
Emerging on the scene in the early 2000s, many critics considered them yet another flash in the pan — the overwhelming hype of bands such as The Strokes, The Vines and The White Stripes left little room for other bands of the same movement to be taken seriously. But The Raveonettes’ unique blend of ’50s-style simple song structures, seamless harmonies and melancholy lyrics painted against a backdrop of major guitar fuzz quickly put the band on the path of critical success.
Officially set for release last Tuesday, Observator is the duo’s sixth full length album. The record follows 2011’s Raven in the Grave, which saw the band depart from its usual composition styles and go instead for a more gothic and uneven sound. Observator finds the band going back to its roots by featuring the trademark, inimitable shoegazing-on-the-beach musique noir that they’ve mastered so effortlessly.
The ironic placement of poppy harmonies and song structures against an overwhelmingly distorted sound has become a trademark for the band. Add in some lyrics that could be dialogue from The Big Sleep, and you’ve got the makings of a wonderfully gloomy Raveonettes record.
From the steadily mellow and pensive opener “Young and Cold” to the majestically noisy closer “Till the End,” Observator takes the listener on a journey worthy of the best 1950s dime store pulp fiction. “Young and Cold” sets the stage for a flashback of that tumultuous summer, which the following seven songs aurally paint. “Observations” marks the first time the band has used a piano and is the perfect soundtrack for a fateful meeting, while Foo’s dreamy and ethereal vocals on “Curse the Night” make it clear that love is in the air. Songs like the Blondie-inspired “The Enemy,” the ’60s-pop-put-through-a-noise-blender “Downtown,” and the grungy “You Hit Me (I’m Down)” fill out the narrative of the rollercoaster ride of summer passion and all build up to the closing track, a final epiphany of freedom through dreamy distortion.
The raucously serene noir chronicle that is Observator was no accident — as he states on The Raveonettes’ official website, Wagner had been going through a particularly turbulent summer filled with disappointment, disaffection and depression. Tempted by the Pacific pull and inspired by the inherently Californian music of The Doors, Wagner set out for Los Angeles.
Expecting to find the answer to all his problems on Venice Beach, Wagner instead found nothing but more bleakness and solitude wrapped up in the beauty of California. After a four-day binge on benzos, booze and buddies, Wagner finally got the inspiration he needed to create an album that mirrored his experience — beautiful in sound, bleak at heart.
To further capture an authentic West Coast feel, Foo and Wagner recorded the album at Sunset Sound Studios, the legendary recording space frequented by The Doors. Recorded in only seven days, Observator comes out as a testament to the beauty of loneliness and the strange experiences that make up our lives.
“For so long, I tried to capture a new muse and carve out a path forward for us,” Wagner said on the band’s official website. “I travelled thousands of miles to find it and experienced all kinds of insanity along the way. Yet all the while, the future of The Raveonettes was in the people, the occurrences and the relationships that were immediately around me. [The album is] a collection of observations that occur in life and as I’ve learned, life happens everywhere.”
So the next time you’re thinking of brooding on the Manhattan Beach Pier with your toxic elixir of choice, instead of ruminating yourself to ruin, give Observator a try. Whether it’s taking in the strangely pleasant distorted sounds or relating to the anti-hero lyrics you picture Humphrey Bogart muttering, Observator offers such a romantic rendering of dejection that you’ll end the record genuinely optimistic that it’s only when you’ve lost it all that you can gain it all.