If you ever want to hear a music critic operating at Peak Pretension, ask them what genre The Raveonettes fall into. The band has been associated with every hybrid imaginable, from retro garage to noise pop, surf rock to whatever post-modernist motown is supposed to be. Bassist and vocalist Sharin Foo laughs when we ask her for the best description of the band’s sound. “It’s very confusing,” she agrees. “We are a split personality sort of band – we always like to do the opposite of what we did last time.”
The Danish duo’s new album, Pe’ahi, isn’t going to help classification purists solve the riddle either. Dropped on the world Beyonce-style last month, it comes with all kinds of new un-Raveonettesy musical elements – xylophones, breakbeats and sickly warped fairground music -underpinned by fuzzy, raucous guitars and gentler harmonies. Songs swoop from sugar-sweet twinkles to dense distorted noise and pause for some contemplative crooning before raining it all back down on you at once.
“It was a conscious decision to do something different,” Sharin tells us. “We wanted to make a statement; something that was more extreme. We had more of a ‘we don’t give a fuck’ sort of attitude – nobody can tell us what we can do or what we can’t do, we’re just going to do it.” Previous albums may have been made within strict self-imposed limitations (every song on the band’s debut Whip It On was written in B flat minor, for instance), but Pe’ahi was more about letting loose: “There’s a lot of ‘Oh you can’t go to the extremes of digital sounds because it’s not going to sound good’. But we’re like, it sounds good to us! It sounds brutal and wrong and sometimes that’s right.”
Brutal is certainly one word for the subjects the band explores on Pe’ahi, from songwriter Sune Wagner’s near-fatal surfing accident to the recent death of his father and their complicated relationship. With the band’s songs so heavily infused with Sune’s experiences, it’s no surprise to hear Sharin describes them as “a little bit closer to Sune’s heart than mine” before grimacing and adding, “That’s kind of a crude thing to say but it is, it’s his mind and his feelings and his thoughts.“There have been records that I never felt deeply connected with because they were very much of a time and place in Sune’s life that was further away from my universe,” she says carefully. “For instance, the period when I had a child, I was in a very different space than Sune.”
Such is the peril of being part of a two-piece with one dominant songwriter – but every writer needs an editor, so Sharin makes her mark on The Raveonettes’ songs by taking Sune’s hours-long scrap-book recordings and working with him to siphon off the bits that work and define the sound. “I become more a part of navigating within the material to find those central pieces that really resonate with me, with both of us. So I come in and say maybe that’s a little bit too personal, or that’s your own thing. So yeah, I feel very connected to this album. I feel very proud of it.”
You get the sense that she’s relieved that The Raveonettes have found their way to a feistier sound after the oppressive weight of Observator and Raven in the Grave, ready to fight rather than wallow. “I think it’s the best record we’ve done since Lust Lust Lust – it has that thing that I love about The Raveonettes, when we’re less introverted and more powerful and rebellious. And I think this record is very life-affirming even though there’s a lot of sadness. I feel like our last two records were a little bit heavy and there wasn’t that sense of life, y’know? It was just a little bit, ‘Oh, let’s give up’ [laughs]. But this record, I love that there’s a real energy to it.”
So what genre are The Raveonettes? They’re pretty clearly post-anarchic exhilergaze reflecto-pop, guys. Can’t believe you even had to ask.