Several bands peddle the same reverb-and-hooks sound that The Raveonettes have been perfecting for about a decade now. While that could mire Observator, the Danish duo’s sixth full-length, in a veritable sea of Best Coasts, Beach Houses, Tennises, and other fuzzed-out modern acts, The Raveonettes have a couple elements that set them apart from most of their reverb-worshipping contemporaries: solid songwriting and an understanding that effects don’t make a band.
The Raveonettes are widely known as another one of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s spiritual descendants because of an affinity for noisy guitar effects (a comparison Observator dutifully reinforces), but that distinction often overlooks the songwriting that goes underneath the racket. Lush, nocturnal atmospheres and curtains of reverb certainly define The Raveonettes’ sound, but the group isn’t dependent upon a collection of stomp boxes and post-production tricks. Bypass guitarist-singer Sune Rose Wagner’s pedal chain, and most of Observator is still worth a listen, in stark contrast to some of the trite songwriting other acts obscure with reverb.
Wagner and singer Sharin Foo seem to understand this instinctually, and create Observator as a modest exhibition of the songwriting-before-effects ethos. They don’t deviate from the game plan they established on prior records. Wagner wraps arrangements inspired by the Everly Brothers and Phil Spector’s stable of ’60s talent in fuzz as he and Foo share vocal duties. It’s a formula that still has life left in it: On “Young And Cold,” a hazy guitar serves as backdrop to male-female harmonies in a testament to yearning restraint, and on “Curse The Night,” Foo’s lead vocals inject an eerie feel to an arrangement built up from a deliberate doo-wop beat caked in distortion. Observator isn’t all midnight longing, though, with an outright nod toward ear-blistering shoegaze in “Sinking With The Sun” and a chunk of upbeat rock ’n’ roll candy in “Downtown.”
While Wilson’s ability to dial in a dreamy big-room reverb tone and find a perfect dose of fuzz is essential to The Raveonettes’ sound, it’s not essential to the songs themselves. Get past the gear-head guitar textures and tones, and Observator can stand as a pure pop album on its own merits. It’s a claim few of the band’s reverb-worshipping pop compatriots can make, and a distinction that emphasizes The Raveonettes’ position as veterans in the fuzz-pop micro-genre.