Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Raveonettes – 2016 Atomized – Full Track By Track “Anti Album” Review

Over the past twelve months The Raveonettes have released one song per month as part of a uniquely conceptualized “anti-album” campaign. Choosing to do something different from the traditional album and EP format, the band instead released their "Rave-Sound-of-the-Month" on the last Friday of each. With the final track released, the entire collection comes together under the album title “2016 Atomized.” A digital download version is scheduled for release on February 17, with CD coming on April 21 and vinyl on April 22, Record Store Day. All of the above can be pre-ordered via the band’s ongoing Pledge Music Campaign. As is tradition here at DaveCromwellWrites, a detailed and (hopefully) unique perspective on each individual song follows below.

The “anti-album” opens with one its briefest tracks, the two and a half minute “This World Is Empty.” Relying on a spacious keyboard sound and retro drum machine pattern, the mood immediately hearkens back to the early 80’s sound when bands like LA’s Berlin rules MTV. If the title lyric and short melody re-appropriation echoes The Supremes 1966 hit “My World Is Empty Without You,” the focus quickly shifts in new directions. “Tonight, tonight, tonight you’re gonna see me cry” is sung over subtle added depth of keyboards and sonic waves. The central question is asked “why do you love somebody else?” as the keyboard pads drop out leaving a stark backdrop of only percussive clacks and bass note pulses. Subsequent passes through the melody add more perfectly recreated 80’s percussion, synth pads and bass. The final minute features a bright, icy keyboard melody coda completing this homage to the original decade of synth pop.

 An expansive dreamlike quality emerges through distant shifting sonic washes behind crackling noises on “Run Mascara Run,” evoking the motion of old film reels. The hint of melody is perceptible through muffled voices until an abrupt drop with two quick pulses signal they lyrical refrain. “Blood runs like you makeup – in this slow motion dream. Your blue jeans are torn – and there’s blood on the leaves. Seen you in my dreams – of love and falling bombs. Young roses lie dead – when the napalm smell is gone.”

In interviews, Wagner indicates the inspiration for this imagery was partly inspired by a trip to the Bronx in New York with his long-time producer and mentor Richard Gottehrer, which also included Dion DiMucci of Dion And The Belmonts fame. While Dion’s stories that day of “gang life, girl crushes and Doo Wop” may have sparked additional inspiration, to be fair those have been recurring themes in Raveonettes songs since the very beginning. The rhythm, cadence and overall feel has that 60’s stroll vibe that the aforementioned Mr. Gottehrer first evoked on Blondie’s debut album and the track “In The Flesh”

Returning like a sorely missed old friend, a classic Sune twang guitar melody emerges with deep tones and deliberate pacing. It could easily serve as the backing track to a David Lynch film scene of a small dancing dwarf in front of a red velvet curtain.

What follows is a whispered spoken word section that Wagner explains signifies a scream of conscious nod to his hip hop influences. The songs final minute returns to its initial vocal stylings with the lyrics “The palm trees burning down, and your kisses are wild. You smile at orange skies, and I wake up on the west side.” It’s curious that the memory “of a beautiful day walking through The Bronx with Dion and Richard Gottehrer” would result in such violent imagery. Knowing that Mr. Wagner is an avid researcher reader coupled with his fascination for California and Hawaii draws a line to the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941, and the subsequent invention and use of Napalm in 1942. That the story gets flipped in his dream where the women went off to war and the men stayed home to grieve is one more imaginative twist to the Raveonettes world.

A half minute instrumental intro initially appears rooted in that classic Raveonettes guitar sound of reverberated open string notes with upward pitch bend twang endings on third track “Excuses.” Ticking high-hat and solid snare shot percussion provide the beat through a swirl of mysterious radio voices and rising swells. All that drops out with the first wave of lyrics (accompanied only by buzzy keyboard chords) that state: “Now I know I don’t like this girl – but girl still comes around. And my mama tells me to grow up – she don’t like her around.” Stepping immediately to a slower vocal cadence, the story continues to unfold with lines: “I leave tonight to change my life – I leave you satisfied. Cause you were never one to keep – besides I’d rather die.”

Tempo shifts once again to a shuffling hip hop rhythm with matched lyrical delivery “to be seen with – you a-gain-ain, it’s a dead-end, now its weekend” before breaking for a brief funky guitar instrumental interlude. “Time to let loose, wanna get bruised, fuck your excuse, hit me with nukes” over again to the funky guitar break that mirrors the clean sound prevalent on mid-70’s disco tracks like Van McCoy’s “The Hustle.”  It all dramatically drops out to beatless atmospherics, until the initial rhythm returns. That beat doesn’t last long as it goes ambient once again as lyrics arrive in stream-of-conscious statements. “Girl’s a fuck-up and she’s hard to get. Girl shuffles down the street. Girl’s so lazy makes me upset. Fuck please let me forget. Never one to simply throw things out there unattended, also included are slowly building swirls of altered choir voices, radio drop snippets and other assorted otherworldly textures rising through the mix. Returning to earlier introduced slower vocal cadence lyrics followed once again by the “street hustle” rhythm, the funky drummer anchors an outro that weaves irregular sonic enhancements on hazy edges.

Kicking off with a brightly toned energetic guitar melody over early-era digital percussion, fourth track “Junko Ozawa” is boldly declared as being “dedicated to the great, genius game music composer” the cut is titled after. In 1983, this innovative woman graduated from a noted Japanese music university and joined the big game company "NAMCO Ltd" (BANDAI group's company). Also referred to as "Zun-chan" and "Zunko" which were nick names given to her by friends, she emerged over the years to become one of the most prolific Japanese game sound designers and composers. Particularly noteworthy are soundtracks to Namco arcade games like “The Tower Of Druaga” and “Rolling Thunder.” That later game is noted for its ridiculously hard difficulty, where the final level is one of the hardest in video game history. She later adapted her sound for 8-bit consoles like the Nintendo NES and Sega Genesis. It appears she eventually retired from the game music industry in 2008.

As for the song here, vocals processed and compressed proclaim “so I know – that you’ve been cheating with my fri-end. Prepare do die – prepare for war” as the initial guitar hook returns with dramatic force. “I can tell” Sune continues, “the oceans in your eyes are re-ed. I’m all fired up, to end this now,” with that magic hook leading in to a big chorus. “And by the time you got to hurt me – the night was clearly over – the friends I lost were never meant to be. I don’t know why I never saw it – it must be cause I trust you – I guess I must have loved you way too much.” Punctuating all of that are classic spiraling upward buzzing and static battering tones that echo video game passages and level changes.

That quirky-perky melody line continues as the glue holding everything together as new lyrics unfold. “Here I go. I try to make sense of this evil. Damned for sure – How do I go on??? Sune has been quoted as saying how he “wanted to keep all the instrumentation in the 8-12 bit range, only using low bit synths and sounds.” While there are no surprises there, his statement that “even the guitars have been re-sampled and played on a synth” was unexpected as the sound is so rich. Ultimately the Huge chorus cycles through multiple times, each with changing emphasis and textures underneath. Nearly overlooked in all of this video game music tribute is a lyrical song about betrayal and lost love.

Fifth track “Scout” bursts out instantly as if in the middle of a trance dance-floor drop. Lyrics begin quickly, stating: “Go on now scout and break with your man – please understand that you’re in command” with a busy bass guitar line riding freely over a mechanical sampled drum pattern. “Do it for me and do it for yourself come on” punctuated by a brief melodic guitar riff interlude. “Are you for real or are you a dream – scout is it you in this magazine – looking so mean in faded jeans – I’m ready to die.” The tempo and mood suddenly changes with previous backing track instruments dropping out (becoming something of a repeating occurrence throughout all of this “anti-album”) as Sune sings against stark electric piano notes and synth pads. “I wake up in my car – I parked it not too far – from where I passed out – it’s fucked and now I’m crying – wish I never met you while buying – shoes that I threw out – reminded me of you scout – wanna take this memory – and strangle it to death – it’s a mess I guess – can’t stress enough that I want you.”

That slightly-funky, touch-of-jazzy, bass and percussion groove returns adding a swing style vibe to the proceedings. The first three opening vocal lines are repeated for emphasis as subtle instrumental changes emerge underneath. That serves to set up the songs dominant hook and emotional center, which of course is the “I wake up in my car” segment. Another emotional plea emerges with the lyrics: “scout when you have the time – to hear what I just said – I’m not some card you decline – I just can’t be misread – I always wanted you – just didn’t know it (last line repeated for emphasis). The final minute and a half outro emphasizes the swinging bass and percussive groove against dramatic ambient textures.

There are a few points to consider simply from analyzing the lyrics to this song. Sune meets (and apparently dates) models who do those sexy/mean-looking jeans ads in magazines while buying fancy shoes. Something goes wrong with the relationship and he can actually throw out a great pair of shoes because they simply remind him of her. Although he wants to “strangle to death” this memory of her – he still wants her to this very day. He always wanted her – he, well – “just didn’t know it.” Why is he sleeping in his car (after passing out – somewhere – not too far – from the car)? Sure, it’s “just a song.” It’s art – poetic. But, there is definitely a true story embedded in there as well.

It’s not until sixth track “Won’t You Leave Me Alone” that a straight ahead rocker emerges in what could be deemed that original Raveonettes sound. Which of course initially captured their fans attention with a hybrid of Eddie Cochran 50’s speed-swagger and Beach Boys through The Jesus and Mary Chain filter. The lyrics express an exact opposite feeling to previous track “Scout,” as they go: “Don’t sink your teeth in me. Try to understand where I’m at. I’m not the one you need. Forget about it we don’t match. Listen to me when I tell you,” seamlessly transitioning into the chorus. Which goes: “Forget it won’t you leave me alone” repeated four times. However those four lines are far from stagnant as the signature Wagner guitar mirrors that vocal melody in an equal blend.

Verse two clarifies things further with lyrics: “Why don’t you understand. I don’t wanna get with you. You never had a chance. You know even my mom disapproves. So listen to me when I tell you” (and big chuckle for throwing “mom’s disapproval” in there as proof this relationship will never go anywhere). The instantly hooky chorus returns and with it what sounds like Sharin Foo adding backing shadow vocals.  Those contributions have always been her most memorable musical aspect in The Raveonettes sound, and certainly good to hear. There’s also a distinct real-live-drums sound to the percussion which further underscores the rock n’ roll feel. A cool instrumental break follows with chunky guitar chords paired against a sustained guitar line. All leading to a real snare drum build-up and tom-tom rolls, ushering in an exploding Mary-Chain-style guitar buzz bomb-burst. The entire verse and chorus cycle repeats one more time completing the hard charging thrills.

A basic demo drum machine pattern kicks off “Where Are You Wild Horses,” as easy breezy western plains guitars establish the appropriate mood. “Don’t cry just let me go – I’m not the one you need” Wagner sings, initially appearing thematically similar to “Won't You Leave Me Alone.” “Don’t let me drag you down – I’ll always remember you,” he continues. The bridge section that goes “Make me understand – why you won’t set me free” is sung in rising tones, leading to the big chorus.

“Where are you wild horses tonight” could be interpreted two separate ways. One way might be an extension of the Rolling Stones song “Wild Horses,” which “couldn’t drag me away.” Indicating a wish for that kind of devotion to stay, that just isn’t there. Or perhaps the questions begs “where are the wild horses” TO “drag away” this difficult situation.

 As the story evolves with the lines “how can you love – when I’m not worth loving. How can you give – when nothing ever gets back to you.” It becomes clearer that this is a different, more self-effacing breakup.

 The horses metaphor gets a double work over with repeated lines “where are you horses tonight?” and “I look out, I look out I see nothing.” The lush soundscape fills with cavernous swells as vibrant acoustic guitar picks and strums the chord structure. The final chorus adds extended pitch-bended guitar notes completing the western motif dreamscape.

No build up necessary for “A Good Fight” as it bursts right out of the box with music and vocals from the very first second. “Brought you over to that special place where everybody hunts alone,” Wagner sings against jungle tom-tom drums and quick-strummed Bo Diddley guitar. I took you driving up that dreaded coast to raise your heartbeat on my own. “Cause tonight” as the beat and twang morphs in a hyper-drive Peter Gunn detective groove “I miss – a good fight.” With that last word floating away in echo, the tempo instantly slows down its pace and coasts along via slow-groove ride cymbal, snare drum and toms against melancholy piano notes. “It’s bliss” is the only sentiment expressed during this half minute instrumental interlude.

“Remember when we used to go on trips, so you could go off on your own” ushers back that initial opening pace. The story takes a turn towards kink with the lines “remember when I used to tie you up and you’d be crying oh please don’t!”

The follow two sections repeat as before, with the slower ambient section now adding lush backing strings to the mix. A dark and intriguing bridge is introduced, creating a level of tension often found in film music.

One more round of hyper-tom throttle drives the lyrics: “the other day I read that everybody goes to hell to have a blast. Oh I’ve been wicked I’ve hurt somebody close to me, how can I feel relaxed?” With that the final majestic slow section emerges adding layers of icy wind keyboard strings.

The drum track on “This Is Where It Ends" sounds like it was initially played on the traditional acoustic instrument, but then sampled and reassembled into a tight precision loop. Vocals emerge after a few seconds, with lyrics “all these dreams I take from you now’ are sung in a deliberate and choppy cadence. “Don’t you think that I’ll ever forget,” continues the voices, which sound like Sune and Sharin singing together in high-pitched harmony. The lines “this is where it ends we know this” adds a buzzing synthesizer to the mix, with “the little time we had means everything” concluding that passage.

A significant change occurs with the lyrics “restless again did I ever change, made me feel sad, made me feel strange” as the percussion drops out leaving only a wash of sound punctuated by pitch-shifting pulse. “Supported by friends, but that wasn’t it” is the follow-up line one is left to ponder as Wagner drops in a signature guitar sound interlude. That unmistakable Sharin and Sune vocal tandem delivers the next segment with lines “Thoughts – like these – don’t go away – by themselves.” “Maybe – one day” (stepping up an octave) “I can live – with myself.” Another beautiful musical interlude follows that blends the traditional Raveonettes sound with a dreamy carnival atmosphere. Bold use of piercing synth tones and syncopated drumming provides more delightful unexpected moments.

One more percussive drop out sees the focus momentarily shift to a descending bass-synth figure. “When - you – came – home – on – that – ni-ight” brings back the halted between each word, deliberate vocal style. “Did – you – dare - to look – into the mirror” altering the vocal cadence even further – “and what did you see?” “Did we both lose all in the end” is delivered in a high pitched register accompanied only by simple piano notes. “Feels like it now, that is for sure – maybe we’ll come – around again – I’m sure” ends what is one of the most unpredictable songs in this collection. It seems that Sune has had his fair share of shattered relationships in his lifetime. Maybe as many as Taylor Swift!

Ah yes – Sune’s love of Hawaii and Hawaiian music is fully on display with the tenth track “Choke On Love.” The south sea island groove bounces along with pounding-on-coconuts percussion and a bright single note guitar melody. Lyrics come with vintage cheeseboard keyboards stating (in stop/start rhythm)“it looks like a dead give-away – but I will never compromise. I’m only here to see it through – and this is not my time I tell you.”

Instrumental interludes follow and much of it wouldn’t be out of place at a Copa Cabana conga line. Vocals return with the lines “they always try to make me sleep – they think they got me on a leash. Fuck all their insecurities – someone like me just can’t get beat down – beat down.”

By now the conga line has moved out of the reception hall and is snaking around the building outside. However, true to form on pretty much every track in this collection, a surprising change occurs. The conga-nuts are put down in favor of gently reverberated guitar and swirling ambience. The lyrics “as I walk on the black grass I see – deadbeats like you on CCTV’s.” An inspired, speedy guitar solo breaks out and runs roughshod over the proceedings before circling back to the conga line.

Rising up from the abyss in super slow motion, come reverent cathedral textures that fully envelope the listener on eleventh track “Fast Food.” Muffled drumming begins to thump along, as if stifled by an unseen sheet of ice in-between. Distant dreamy vocals commence with the lines “it’s almost midnight, time to close my eyes, but – I – see – you - I’m – so – con – fused. I thought we moved on, deadly as A-bombs – run for my life (noteworthy here that the percussion suddenly drops out for those four words), fuck these break lights. Out under night skies, the smell of pesticide – are you close by (with tandem ghosting vocals), fire up search lights. Maybe I’ll see you, maybe I’ll touch you, cause I want you – yummy like fast food. It’s almost midnight, sleep with be denied – lust she comes now, time to fade out” caps the lyrical hypnagogia state between sleep and wakefulness. What follows is what has always made Raveonettes songs the absolute best. A deep guitar tone plunges down under the swirling waves of sound, cutting through with an emotional commitment and intensity that comes from the soul. It’s big, bold and majestic – and everything you’ve ever loved about The Raveonettes music.

An over twelve minute instrumental-only epic titled “PENDEJO” (which is Spanish slang word for a stupid, dumbass) serves as the final track of this collection. Opening with the kind of cinematic string section you would hear at the start of a movie, things soon morph over a straight-forward chunk-along beat and western film saga whistling wind tones. That percussion track is particularly intriguing as it features additional overdubbed clacks and snare shots with emphatic reverberated effects. A little over two minutes in and the signature Wagner guitar suddenly appears adding a deep twang to the proceedings. At four and a half minutes, the first seismic shift occurs with rising static and deep toms signaling the change. Deep pulse thumping (and little else) inhabit the next 20 seconds or so until madcap guitar textures fill the sonic spectrum, soon joined by single pitch bended guitar notes. A tension begins to build as basic clack percussion resumes and dueling layers of guitar pluck out both melody and buzzing background dissonance. Coming to an abrupt halt one more time, a speedier drums and guitar progression commences against the sound of voices broadcasting through megaphones. The seven minute mark sees that segment concluded, followed by a lengthy singular modulating tone. What sounds like the plucking of harp strings commences the next segment which also includes additional megaphone voice overlay. A slapping snare shot beat marks out time as gentle plucked strings and complimentary keyboard notes float above. One more change occurs around 9:45 when it all returns to the theme initially established at the tracks beginning. This time Wagner adds additional higher register guitar lines on the outro of a surreal and gorgeous composition.

This final video makes clever use of an image of Jack Kerouac in a football uniform taken when he played for Columbia University in the 1940’s. Mr. Wagner has made no secret of his admiration for Kerouac and his writing since The Raveonettes inception. He has a tattoo of Kerouac’s image on his inside forearm. An inspirational writer to myself as well (particularly influential in earlier days) the entire beat generation owes a debt of gratitude to Jack’s literary vision.  While he may have been "pendejo" at times during his gone-too-soon life, the works he left behind are anything but.

The Raveonettes are hosting a special intimate pre-launch party at The Music Box in San Diego on January 21, 2017 where they will perform the album in it's entirety.  All info regarding that can be found here.

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For further album reviews and live show recaps of The Raveonettes, see here:

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