Talking about music vol. II- ‘Raven In The Grave’

Hi again- it’s been a few days, I know- I’ve been rather busy with various drama-based workings which hopefully will all go well. I also noticed that it’s been at least 2 weeks since I last did a music review. So I’m going to do one now. Same format as before- I start talking about the songs as soon as they start, and finish when they finish.

Today, I was stuck between two albums- Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ by Glasvegas, or Raven In The Grave by The Raveonettes, my two favourite albums of this year. In the end, I’ve gone for Raven In The Grave, although I will get on to Glasvegas soon.

Before I start, a quick bit about the band and the record.

The Raveonettes formed in 2001 in Copenhagen as a duo- Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, although throughout the career they have utilised other members, either for studio work or when touring. Their musical (and lyrical) style is primarily a mixture between Phil Spector-esque Wall Of Sound, The Velvet Underground and Jesus & Mary Chain, as well as surf rock- much of their music harks back to the 1950s and 60s. Raven In The Grave is the band’s 5th studio album (6th if you include the debut EP, Whip It On, wherein every song was written in the key of B-flat minor). However, they have been criticised (unfairly) that their music lacks stylistic progression- they are rooted within their genre, and other than 2005’s Pretty In Black (a much lighter album with obvious country and ‘girl group’ influences), they have remained musically similar. I don’t see this as a bad thing.

Similarly, lyrically, their songs are rather same-y: lust, betrayal, suicide, murder, heartbreak- think Lou Reed and The Shangri-La’s and you’re not far off.

2011’s Raven In The Grave is a dark album, darker than anything they have made since Whip It On. The opening song, ‘Recharge And Revolt’ shows this- with out-of-focus guitars and keyboards blasting out of the ether. The entire album has this odd feel- almost as if the record itself has had one too many drinks, or taken the wrong drug at the wrong party. The vocals are buried well into the mix, but still obviously showing the Everly Brothers-style harmony from Wagner and Foo. This is an album which certainly benefits from a decent sound system- I’m listening to it through my Skullcandy headphones rather than my CD player speakers- probably a good idea. Towards the end of the song, I’ve noticed that there was barely any percussion in ‘Recharge And Revolt’- the entire song is driven by the rhythm guitar- but it WORKS.

The next song, ‘War In Heaven’ begins with an odd contrast- a strange ‘duet’ of sleighbells and synth eventually give way to yet more guitar fuzz, which breaks away as Sharin’s icy vocals begin. A far more percussive track, complete with reverb splashes, arpeggiation and layered, but understated, feedback growling behind everything else. The best word for this song has already been used- ‘icy’. It’s a world away from the sunny soundscapes of Pretty In Black, or even 2007’s keyboard-driven Lust Lust Lust (my least favourite of their albums to date).
‘Forget That You’re Young’ is the first song that ‘feels’ like a Raveonettes song- this could fit on practically any of their preceding LPs. This is certainly not a bad thing. Spaghetti Western guitar splashes, close harmonies, minimal drumming- however, it still has that slight ‘fuzziness’ that Raven In The Grave seems to have- it’s very hard to describe. The only part that betrays itself (in other words, you can tell which album it’s from), is the synthesiser line which cuts in approximately halfway, leading to a long fade-out. The song doesn’t feel as though it has finished though- it simply faded from the record to someplace else, and continued there, much like ‘Endless Endless’ by Kraftwerk.
Now comes the one song that drops the entire standard of the album somewhat- ‘Apparitions’. It’s not a bad composition, by any means, but…if you own other Raveonettes records (mainly Whip It On or Chain Gang Of Love, the first full LP), you’ve heard this song before. In several forms. This isn’t a bad thing, usually, but ‘Apparitions’ is very nondescript, especially compared to the opening salvo of songs. In fact, I’ve got 1 minute, 40 seconds left- I’m using this as a toilet break.
Back. One thing I’ve noticed about Raven In The Grave is that it is the shortest Raveonettes release yet (barring EPs), in terms of track numbers and total time. Only 9 songs here- compared to the 13 on Chain Gang Of Love, and 17 on Pretty In Black. However, the sound is far more expansive, which is shown in the next song, ‘Summer Moon’- the closest yet on this record to The Everly Brothers- actually quite beautiful, in a strange way- the amount of echo on EVERYTHING gives the track as huge sound, even though it’s fairly minimal in construction. The production (by Sune Rose Wagner), is excellent.
This vein continues in ‘Let Me On Out’- which is replete with what sounds like a foghorn blaring somewhere at the back of the soundscape- it’s a hugely immersive song, even though it’s one of the slowest and the shortest on the album.
‘Ignite’ is a complete contrast. This blast of garage rock/surf rock hybrid could sit easily next to debut single ‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’. Again, only the slightest hint of keyboard, hovering above the song, adds the slightest ethereal air to probably the most grounded song on Raven In The Grave. However, it feels over-long. The early material by the band was short- it took an EP and an album before a song longer than 3 minutes showed up. ‘Ignite’, only 3 minutes long, still feels like it overstays it’s welcome. But only just.
A Morricone-esque instrumental passage kicks ‘Evil Seeds’ into proceedings. This is back into the vein of the opening third of the album- essentially bringing the band back to their current project, after a slight nostalgia moment. The band sound incendiary here- I haven’t seen them live (yet- I’ll explain in a minute), but I imagine that this song will be amazing. The outro is another slight flashback to Pretty In Black, just a Wagner/Foo harmony and an acoustic guitar.
Now. The last track of the LP. And my favourite Raveonettes song to date. ‘My Time’s Up’ is like a slice of Wall Of Sound, played on an old AM radio, flecked with reverb splashes, static, arpeggiated guitar work and a beautiful vocal melody. Until a turning point, about a minute and a half in- the drums begin, and the bass kicks in with the tried-and-tested 1950s chord progression (Stand By Me, Earth Angel, Lonesome Town etc). This song encapsulates The Raveonettes, to me, in about 4 and a half minutes. It still sounds unfocused, with wailing feedback right at the back of the mix, creeping forward as the instrumental passage ebbs and flows. Again, I’m very glad I put my headphones on for this. The feedback-drenched guitar ambles away until the last passage- a scattering of chords, still ringing out that classic chord progression. Then nothing.
I bought this album on the day of release, without reading any reviews or promotional material- I wanted to make up my own mind. A few days later, however, my curiosity got the better of me, and I trawled the internet to see what others thought of it. I was quite saddened by the fact that most reviews were fairly nonplussed. Even worse- did it make a certain music magazine’s ‘albums of 2011’? Did it hell. For that matter, did Glasvegas? Nope. But I don’t care. I love it.
I had the opportunity to interview The Raveonettes a couple of years ago- they were playing a date in Newcastle while I was at home over Christmas, and I got in touch to interview them. However, bad weather meant that I couldn’t get over. As such, I have yet to see them live. This problem will be rectified. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
This post today has been genuinely enjoyable. Sorry for the lack of doodles and nonsensical ramblings. I’ll try extra-hard to do some next time.
Keep reading! Or watching, or even listening if you like.
(Dial Tone)
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