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Album Review: The Raveonettes ‘2016 Atomized’

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In January 2016, Danish duo The Raveonettes began their Rave-Sound-of-the-Month-Club by releasing a single called “The World Is Empty.” This was the first in a series that would comprise what the band dubbed an “anti-album;” one single would be released every month for a year. Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner described this as an attempt to free themselves from the “constraints” of the album format. This month, the band has released 2016 Atomized, arranging all 12 singles in consecutive order.

Much of the album belies a fixation on love, death and nuclear war, with “Run Mascara Run” being the most obvious. Lyrics about blue jeans, falling bombs and palm trees offset a perky 1960s melody, while the sounds of mushroom clouds and air raid sirens permeate one’s consciousness; it’s Frankie and Annette’s Bikini Atoll Beach Party. Viewed from this perspective, the synth-heavy lead (“The World Is Empty”) could depict an emotional apocalypse when it asks the simplest and most eternal of questions: “Why do you love somebody else?” Lost love is also the subject of “Fast Food,” in which a relationship is described as not only “deadly as A-bombs” but also “yummy like fast food,” while an onslaught of synthesizers creates a deafening roar.

The Raveonettes have a knack for constructing songs that defy expectations and combine seemingly contradictory styles. A good example of this is “Excuses,” which pairs dramatic reverb guitar with a hip-hop beat. The result is an intoxicating study in contrasts, especially when the bridge slows the melody down to a near-excruciating crawl. “Fuck your excuse / hit you with nukes” vows the narrator. This sentiment is echoed in “Junko Ozawa” which instructs the subject of its rage to “prepare to die / prepare for war.” The song’s surf rock guitar gets buried by a wave of feedback and, in a tribute to the song’s namesake, a delirious 8-bit breakdown further emphasizes The Raveonettes’ flair for genre blending.

Another song that mixes seemingly incongruous styles is “Scout,” which opens with a Madchester rhythm section that falls away to reveal a slower chorus, its lyrics scanned staccato-style over what feels like a cavernous empty room. The ending fuses it all together in a passionate rush: “I’m not some card you decline / I just can’t be misread.” “This Is Where It Ends” opens with a heavy drumbeat and ear-rattling bass until it vanishes, replaced by reverb-heavy guitar and breathtaking vocals. Even the album’s final track, the epic, instrumental “Pendejo” establishes one fantastic melody (a slow-as-molasses hip-hop beat and a piercing, haunting synth theme), transforming into a guitar-heavy garage rock anthem (and then an almost-acoustic ballad) before creeping back towards its initial melody.

Yet there is no track on 2016 Atomized that better encapsulates the unorthodox nature of The Raveonettes’ songwriting than the addictive “A Good Fight,” which splits the chorus between two completely opposite sonic palettes. The song’s anticipatory guitar riff seems like it’s going to explode into a post-punk chorus, but instead drops off into a chasm of atmospheric heartbreak, complete with poignant piano and wistful synths. It’s haunting.

Other tracks highlight the band’s diverse influences. There’s a definite shoegaze vibe in “Won’t You Leave Me Alone,” both sonically and lyrically. Continued pleas to “forget it, won’t you leave me alone” fit the song’s repetitive nature, as it alternates a deceptively simple guitar line with layers and layers of swooning vocals, a mantra for obsessive compulsive behavior. The upbeat “Choke On Love” feels like a sibling of Blondie’s “The Tide Is High” with guitar that mimics steel drums, while its lyrics strain against the shackles of relationship expectations: “They always try to make me sleep / they think they got me on a leash.” The melancholy atmosphere of “Where Are Your Wild Horses?” and its exquisitely sad vocals makes the song sound as if Air’s Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin snuck into the studio.

2016 Atomized is an apt title for an album full of songs that are obsessed with nuclear and romantic annihilation, each track a finely distilled blast of musical essence from The Raveonettes’ particularly heady bouquet.

2016 Atomized was released digitally on February 17. The CD will be out April 21 with a vinyl release set for Record Store Day on April 22 via Beat Dies Records.

Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.

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