It’s amazing to think that The Raveonettes have been around for 10 years now. It seems like just yesterday they were strutting around, clad in all black, dishing out throwback guitar rock songs while purposely challenging themselves in new and interesting ways. Their debut EP “Whip It On” was a study in minimalism and restraint, with every song being recorded using only three chords and only in the key of B-flat minor. As one cannot survive very long by holding onto those restrictions, for their first full length they broke out of that mold and into a vast mixture of darker elements out of the 50s thru 80s. They became oft-compared to The Jesus and Mary Chain, though the earlier their material the less that becomes true. Their most recent two records, 2008’s “Lust Lust Lust” and 2009’s “In and Out of Control”, were supercharged with fuzzed out shoegaze guitars and sheer walls of noise that still tended to breed hooks and plenty of intrinsic darkness. The real question is whether you can actively remember those records. The duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have been releasing music so often and under a consistently similar style that it’s been drawing ever-closer to auditory wallpaper. The main reason why is because those records weren’t exactly pinnacles of brilliance, nor did they bend to the wills of more popular styles at the time. Like clockwork though, because it’s been a year and a half since we had any new Raveonettes material, they’re back again with their fifth album “Raven in the Grave”.
The first track on “Raven in the Grave” is titled “Recharge & Revolt”, and it does almost exactly that. It’s still plenty dark – nobody was expecting The Raveonettes to lighten up – but it also has an energy and an unconventional way about it that feels just a little more refreshing than usual. Yes, it utilizes their classic shoegaze sound, but shortly after the guitars begin to build, synths enter the picture and form a surprising curveball. The Raveonettes have been known to use a synth or two on occasion, but never as heavily or predominantly as they’re used here. It gives the song a much more 80s vibe that permeates a number of other parts of the record too, diversifying the band’s sound just barely enough to make it more thrilling than it has been in years. For tracks one through four, Wagner and Foo make it seem like they’re crafting themselves a masterpiece. In particular, “Forget That You’re Young” makes for one of the best Raveonettes songs ever, with its ample hook and overall sweetness that sends streams of light through the general blackness surrounding it.
Speaking of blackness, after building up a healthy dose of momentum and positive buzz, the middle of the record is like a huge black hole of suck. “Summer Moon” and “Let Me on Out” are two songs that appear to wonder aimlessly without any real purpose other than to slow things down to a proverbial crawl across the desert without any food or water. It’s not the tempo of the track that’s the real problem, though it doesn’t help, but rather the near total disregard for anything resembling a fascinating melody. The Raveonettes have done slower songs without such a struggle before, and while you can keep your fingers crossed that maybe the lyrics will be a saving grace, words have never been the band’s strong suit. What’s interesting is how after getting dragged through the mud for a couple tracks, “Ignite” relights the fire underneath the duo and does a fairly successful job of wiping away the damage that was just done. Either that, or it just feels like a huge relief after such a morbid punishment. From that point forwards though, the rest of the album isn’t immensely great but not nearly bad either. “Evil Seeds” feels like vintage Raveonettes, a track they could do in their sleep but also equal parts comfort and ferocity. Closing ballad “My Time’s Up” actually does hold the proof that this band can do good stuff even in slower motion. It’s a satisfying end to the record, and leaves you wondering exactly where the plot went wrong for that handful of minutes in the midsection.
As if the album title, cover and past efforts by The Raveonettes hadn’t told you already, “Raven in the Grave” is not upbeat or happy in really any way. It holds a strong fascination with death and loss, but when you envelop the listener with that much noise then happiness and sunshine are really off the table. Despite some strong moments and a couple of sonic innovations, this record isn’t the one to quite put this band back on the right track to critical esteem and an extended fan base. The good news for Wagner and Foo is that those aren’t necessarily the requirements to get noticed at the moment. See, they’re lucky because upbeat pop and rock are on their way out at the moment and darkness is making a big comeback. That means all purveyors of said darkness are ripe for attention once more. By sticking to a same or similar sound for such a long period of time, the trends have swung back in their direction. If they’re going to take hold, now’s as good of a time as any to do so. It just would have been nice had “Raven in the Grave” turned out just a little better. Still, it provides a healthy blueprint the duo can work on fully evolving to that next level, and assuming they keep churning out material at a pace of a new record every 1-2 years, any lofty goals they might be hanging onto will hopefully still be easily obtainable.