Great Danes of Music: The Raveonettes
In a slight stylistic deviation from much of the in-your-face music I love so much, we arrive today at the Raveonettes, one of my absolute favorite currently active and touring bands. They’re somewhat well-known, but not too much. Misdemeanor-ly unappreciated if not criminally unappreciated, I suppose. In any case, they are very, very dear to my heart, and here’s why:
Formed in Copenhagen in 2001 by Sune Rose Wagner (mostly guitar) and Sharin Foo (mostly bass), the Raveonettes win through consistency, hard work, and a different sense of originality resulting in just superb music.
Let’s start with the last point first. Though they wear their influences on their sleeves, the Raveonettes have fused them into something unique and synergistic. They take the the noise-pop of 80s shoegazers, most notably the Jesus & Mary Chain, the twang of rockabilly and the close vocal harmonies of 1950s rock and roll (their name is a tribute to the Buddy Holly song “Rave On”), and hard, driving beats of indie dance, and fuse it all into their own sound. While they may sound superficially closer to the J&M Chain than anyone else, the Raveonettes are more polished while sometimes being more chaotic, more melodic and catchier, but at the same time often much darker.
The result is astonishing. Overall, it’s a wall of sound in the best sense – no overproduction, just brilliant production: simultaneously dirty and twangy guitars, white noise, driving beats, and clear harmonies. In an era where much indie rock sounds rather similar and follows trends, the Raveonettes struck out on their own and have never looked back, and have succeeded wildly, at least from a musical perspective. Mind you, I’ve seen them at least three times and each concert I’ve been to has been pretty packed, and they do play at some big music festivals, so they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.
Regarding that, remember what I said about consistency and hard work? As I said: formed in 2001, first EP, really album-length, released in 2002, first full-length album released in 2003, and since then an album has come out every two years: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011. What modern band does that? Almost none. What makes it even more astonishing is that all their frequently-released albums are good, a few superbly so. As I said, I’ve seen them three or four times, because they tour constantly and subsequently have built up quite a following underground at least.
In short, the Raveonettes do everything right. Long live the Raveonettes!
Whip it On, 2002. The debut EP, 8 short songs, recorded entirely in “Glorious B flat minor.” Dark, noisy and awesome. Some of the 50s influences are less noticeable here, but it really set the standard for all their later work (even though they never stuck to minor key only again). Picks: “Attack of the Ghost Riders” , “Do You Believe Her”
Chain Gang of Love, 2003. First full-length album, and wow. Similar in concept to Whip it On, only all in B flat Major. Consequently the 50s happy-harmony thing shines through a lot better. The production quality is also better, the songs are ridiculously catchy and everything clicks. Masterpiece-grade; if you must have only one of their albums, this is the one. Picks: “That Great Love Sound”, “Heartbreak Stroll”, “Little Animal”
Pretty in Black, 2005. Such was my love for the Raveonettes at the time that I actually named my first black iPod, ca. late 2005, after this album. In actuality, probably their weakest album, but that’s only relative. It’s still good, but it’s a bit more pop-focused and polished. Their first work to vary the keys up, which actually is good, because on the previous two, all the songs sound very similar, all being short and in the same key. Also, the vocal-group influence is probably strongest here, with Sharin’s cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Overall, a decent album, but not their best. Picks: “Sleepwalking”, “Twilight”, “Here Comes Mary”
Lust Lust Lust, 2007. A reinvention and their second classic. Rejecting the more overt pop of the previous album, here the Raveonettes keep the same mix of influences, but overall it often sounds much darker and less clean, amping up the noise all while still having intensely catchy melodies and guitar lines. If Whip it On set the guidelines for the Raveonettes, this album put forth a new approach that the band’s still following. It’s really hard to recommend only a few songs from this because all are superb, but here goes: “Hallucinations”, “Dead Sound”, “Sad Transmission”. Really there isn’t a single dud on this album, though. Get it ASAP.
In and Out of Control, 2009. Third masterpiece? Or just an amazing follow up to Lust Lust Lust? These albums are so similar, but this one takes a bit of the noisy edge off its predecessor, while making some of the lyrical elements darker still (songs about suicide, destroying rapists, drugs, etc). Overall it’s a definite continuation to 2007’s work, but the sound is more immediate and upfront, with more complete-sounding songs and possibly their catchiest work since Chain Gang of Love. Again, hard to pick just three, but take a listen to “Bang!”, “Gone Forever”, and “D.R.U.G.S.” So many other good ones though..
Raven in the Grave, 2011.
The latest one, and sort of a combination of Lust and Control, while being more atmospheric, hypnotic, and entrancing than either, with synthesizers more prominent than on any previous record, making it sound slightly 1980s. I guess it could be said this is their most mature work? It’s definitely their most stark record, but still excellent: some of the melodies and chord changes on here are beautifully heartbreaking: “War in Heaven”, “Ignite,” and “Evil Seeds” are good examples of that.
Observator, 2012 (post updated to reflect the release of this album last week). NOW the latest one, not even 18 months after Raven. Distilled essence of Raveonettes: melancholic yet cheerful-sounding melodies, pure chiming guitars, a light sprinkling of noise, and unprecedented warmth. The first half, roughly, is a more experimental, stripped-down affair, while the second half is their classic sound refined. An album that in the week it’s been out, has simply grown and grown on me – I can’t stop listening. Not a single bad song on it, but here are some picks: “Observations”, “Sinking with the Sun”, “Downtown”, “Till the End” . See the full WBH review here.
Man, making these selections was tough. This band really doesn’t put out bad songs. If this is your first encounter with them, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to explore further.