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Peʻahi (/peɪˈɑːhiː/ pay-ah-hee; Hawaiian: [peˈʔɐhi]) is a place on the north shore of the island of Maui in the U.S. state of Hawaii. It has lent its name to a big wave surfing break, also known as Jaws.
At first, drawing parallels between a legendary and terrifying big-wave surfing spot and the sound that The Raveonettes make may seem like an odd correlation, other than the obvious touchstone of “surf music” that occasionally seasons their work. But as you listen, the real connection may become clearer. My name is Justin. I’ve been a friend and devoted fan of The Raveonettes for more years than I can remember, and I had the honor of producing Pe’ahi with the band.
What I experienced, both during its creation and upon its completion, is a sensation of being “swept away”. The music and its emotional effects are in real control, not the listener. This was the feeling, sometimes even while we were deep in the actual making of it. This album can lift you to exhilarating heights and speed atop its foamy wave crests, where you stand in blazing sunlight. Alternately, there are times when the music threatens to sink you terribly and violently into the lowest, darkest troughs. Back and forth it goes, undulating relentlessly, irresistibly. Joy…pain. Anticipation…dread. The big wave metaphor stands.
On a crisp February Los Angeles morning, I walked into the austere lobby of Sune’s early 20th century downtown apartment building. The white marble wore a hard-earned patina, and the antique freight elevators gave a simultaneous sense of curiosity and foreboding. Upon entering Sune’s enclave on the top floor, you are greeted with vast amounts of light, coming in from everywhere. One side of his large space is stacked with countless books, records and curiosities. The other side is the band’s de facto music creation HQ. It is immediately inviting. So, we set to work.
More often than not, I’ve found that artists I meet who are beyond a few albums into their career start to exhibit blindness, hubris, or maybe symptoms of an existential crisis…perhaps a combination of all three. Sune and Sharin exhibit none of this, thankfully. I found that they simply project a feeling of confident ease, and more importantly: a relentless, bloody-minded purity of intent. What makes that so inspiring and refreshing is that you get nice, juicy risk-taking as a result: Instrumental, vocal or lyrical moments are pursued with gleeful abandon and an explorer’s spirit. “Emotional availability” as they say. Frankly, it is a producer’s dream when the artist gives you material that is unencumbered by self-editing or pre-judgement. When those issues are not in play, everything tends to feel more truthful and raw.
“I enjoy the pressure!” exclaims Sune, grinning as Sharin and I look on. We have five days left, and sleep is at a premium. A vague sense of exhilaration accompanies the panic. My respect grows even further, as I recognize that the man standing before me has recently gone through the gauntlet of heavy personal loss through the passing of his father this Christmas Eve. Then I remember how, after such a thing, (and I speak from experience) a deadline can be transformed from a heavy burden to a total catharsis.
With Pe’ahi, I’d venture to say that the chances taken and areas explored probably go further than any other Raves record. Their particular and wonderfully stylized amalgam of melody and noise, while obviously in existence throughout the band’s work, is now just that much more hair-raising. There are some bold strokes here: the irresistible, candied melodies of “A Hell Below” are couched in the most brutal noise attack they’ve ever committed to a recording, with lyrics to match. “Kill!” and “Sisters” certainly go for it as well, with similar purpose. “Wake Me Up”, “The Rains Of May” and “When Night Is Almost Done” are an exploration of epic song arrangement forms that don’t adhere to standard rock and roll scripture, and flirt with arcane instrumentation and orchestral themes.
And for me, “Z-Boys” might be a personal favorite. On its surface, it would seem to be about the glory days of skater culture in LA. But you will find that it goes further: it speaks of those elusive, fleeting memories that escape just out of reach of your awareness, no matter how hard you try to recapture them. Then, without warning, a memory can re-emerge like a giant thunderclap, with eye-watering detail and cinematic drama, complete with all the joy and pain it may contain. That song for me, along with “The Rains Of May” and “A Hell Below” represent the unofficial “heart” of the album, conceptually speaking. But that’s just me.
I hope you enjoy the record. Helping to make it was a great pleasure. Thank you for reading.
Justin Meldal Johnsen
Los Angeles, 10:30pm