Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Impressions: Raven in the Grave by The Raveonettes

Yet another Scandinavian band, the two-person Raveonettes bear little similarity to the upbeat pop of Peter, Björn and John or the joyous folk of The Tallest Man on Earth. They have more in common with British music, particularly noise/drone guitar bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Catherine Wheel, and 1980s synth pop. And once you strip away the distortion and the (I assume) deliberately fuzzy production, many of the songs are straightforward 1950s/1960s melodic pop, the main difference (aside from the sound) being that they often eschew traditional verse/chorus/bridge structure. Songs are often “all verse,” giving the music a drone-like quality that washes over you with waves of sound and mood.

Yes, there’s a lot going on here! But they pull these disparate elements together into one coherent whole. “Let Me on Out” is a good example. The melody sounds like something The Shirelles or Ronettes might have sung, but the stark and vaguely grating guitar and distorted vocals give it a darker flavor. Same with “My Times Up,” which seems like a straightforward pop song with a slow arpeggiated guitar figure, until another guitar starts grinding underneath and spacy effects join in.

I love the opening track, “Recharge and Revolt.” It starts with an urgently strummed guitar before a background synth sweeps in and leads eventually in a catchy melody reminiscent of the best of 1980s synth pop. “Forget That You’re Young” is one of the few tunes that showcases bassist/guitarist Sharin Foo’s voice. It’s very much in the drone category, with almost no change in the melody but creating a wonderful feel anyway.

The band often uses jarring and off-key guitar figures to lend a note of drama and menace to otherwise poppy songs. The guitar figure on “War in Heaven” is a great example, providing a jarring counterpoint to the sweet soft melody. “Evil Seeds” raises this stark contrast in between verses, the effect accentuated by metallic percussion.

You have to be in the right mood for this kind of music. It’s not for Sunday morning over coffee and the newspaper, driving in the car or bopping around the kitchen. This is “it’s late and I’m really stoned” music – perfectly dark and atmospheric, and very well done.

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