Just in case everyone here hasn’t heard yet: I am crazy-nuts for the Jesus and Mary Chain. 2008 is the year of the Mary Chain for me. So as I fill out the Reid brothers’ discography in my collection, I’ve also been checking out anything and everything that references them as an influence. I reviewed the Magnetic Fields’s newest album not long ago, the appropriately-titled Distortion, and while for Merritt’s band it was a tangent, bringing the noise into their theatrical world, I soon found that for the Raveonettes it’s a way of life.
I’m new to the music of the Raveonettes; all I’ve heard is Lust and the rest I’ve mostly just read about. Let me relay it for the rest of you also playing catch-up. After an EP, the Danish duo’s debut LP, 2003’s Chain Gang of Love told the world of their noise pop. Seems with number two, 2005’s Pretty in Black, the two tried to clean things up -- not sure if it was their Darklands or their Stoned & Dethroned, but despite having Mo Tucker on drums, the consensus seemed to be ‘bring back the noise!’ So bring it back they did. First I lusted as I listened to sample MP3s, then I had it. Lust soon became love.
When they played an abridged version of “Aly Walk with Me” on Letterman in their new hometown a couple weeks ago (link) they were not afraid to wear their primary influence proudly as they had a third member join to pound a floor tom and snare, while standing, in true Psychocandy fashion. The programmed drum and bass were grooving on tape underneath, holding it all together as Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, both on guitar, gave up on notes completely in favor of screeching noise in the song’s climax. When it comes to the song as the album’s opener, it’s more Honey’s Dead than Psychocandy due to the drum machine (complete with triangle dings) and the minor key giving a darker tone to the proceedings; it’s like their “Reverence.” It’s actually an odd opener as most of the remainder of the album is major key-happy (but noisy nonetheless) with less groove and more “That Thing You Do.”
Sure, the guitars and drums are pure JAMC, but the vocals favor '60s girl-group pop and Motown more than their elders would ever admit to tape. Honestly, I have a hard time telling Wagner and Foo apart at times, as they both sing in a whispy androgynous (leaning towards feminine) tone. The chorus of “Blush” is so delicately catchy ("I can’t keep you / I can’t hold you tight") I can barely stand it. My absolute favorite, “You Want the Candy” is like a lost Dozier-Holland-Holland tune, and what’s more Motor City than the metaphor of candy = lovin’? “Sad Transmission” shows most fully their love for old R&B with its blatant rip on a “Duke of Earl” style bassline. But don’t fret, there’s loads of white noise guitar over it. Yet I can’t help but think of Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” when “Dead Sound” breaks for its sweet chorus, as the bell-sounding keys chime, taking after their grandparents instead of the ‘rents.
“Expelled from Love” is a bit uneventful in its unchanging lumbering nature and I definitely prefer their faster tunes, but “With My Eyes Closed” brings a welcome change of pace near the album’s end where the guitars actually let up a bit when your ears are starting to beg for it. But just a bit, and that lead is still pretty damn pointy. Each song on this album is its own little noise pop gem, and the only downside I can find is a lack of experimentation. Perhaps after critics took shots at their last album they decided to stick to what they do best. They’ve got the formula nailed, and while they do vary tempos, beats and key signatures, the guitar noise is pretty constant throughout the album and I could see some people finding it exhausting.
Even though this and the Magnetic Fields’s album came out a month apart and share the same main influence, the albums are very different. While Distortion’s focus is on the vocals with them being much higher in the mix and their two vocalists alternating with distinct timbres, Lust’s focus is on the incredible guitars, as the vocals nearly disappear sometimes, sweetly floating amid the din. The Fields use the noise as a light sweater to warm their piano plunks and organ chimes, while the Raveonettes’s noise is a thick fire blanket attempting to smoother the simple melodies. They don’t succeed but bless ‘em for trying.
The Raveonettes never claim to have invented this style, and I don’t fault them for lack of originality because the ways they push it to total extremes. While mixing in their own personality, they are simultaneously poppier and noisier than JAMC’s best work, and while it may not achieve the ‘classic’ status since they didn’t create the genre, it is an incredibly enjoyable listen and has jumped near the top of my ever-growing tentative list for 2008, a year that is already making itself out to be a tough one for list narrowing.