Last year’s Raven in the Grave was as bleak and elegiac as anything the Danish duo Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have ever made, but there was a distinct sense of playfulness coursing quietly beneath the darkness. Pushing gently against verse-chorus-verse strictures, the band experimented with studio effects and expanded song structures, stretching their well-honed sound into new territory. Observator, their latest, channels that same restless, exploratory energy into an exquisitely crafted suite of moody pop songs that swing between isolation and ecstasy. It wasn’t an easy journey for Wagner; in the liner notes, he describes a brief bout with depression and a substance-fueled sojourn in Venice, California – inspired by a search for Jim Morrison as muse – that stalled the album’s early stages and nearly put him out of commission.
But apparently, a little time in the wilderness did him some good. He and Foo soon reunited with famed producer Richard Gottehrer, and after a week at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, they emerged with a richly textured album that shimmers with shoegaze goth (“The Enemy,” with Foo taking the lead in her wispy tenor), southern Cali psych-pop (“She Owns the Streets”) and even a dab of Nilsson-ish piano whimsy (the meditative single “Observations”). “So many times I’ve lost control/ I don’t wanna be young and cold,” Wagner sings on the opening cut “Young and Cold,” affirming his rejuvenation from the outset. All the signatures of the Raveonettes are here – cavernous reverbs, jangly guitars and hallucinatory vocal harmonies that recall the Everly Brothers through the haze of a waking dream – but what sets this one apart is the sense that the band, and Wagner in particular, has gone through the fire and grown stronger from the experience.