THE RAVEONETTES began their recording career by imposing strict para-meters on themselves. Their debut EP, 2002's Whip it On, was performed entirely in the key of B flat minor; 2003's full-length Chain Gang of Love did the same in B flat major. This was at the ascent of the early-'00s garage revival, marked by barebones drums-and-guitar duos and a backward-looking infatuation with rock's pre-psychedelic past. The Raveonettes' amalgam of Brill Building pop and guitar squall—not to mention a seeming attitude of narcotic ambivalence, which has put rock 'n' rollers in good stead since the days of the Velvets—seemed perfectly in line with what was happening musically. But with 2007's dour, synth-heavy Lust Lust Lust, the Danish duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo sounded wholly distanced from the garage revival, having gradually transformed themselves into one of the more intriguing and satisfying bands currently circling the globe. If you hadn't noticed, that could be forgiven until now—but it's time for the Raveonettes to receive your full attention.
Their remarkable 2009 album In and Out of Control wholeheartedly embraced the sugary confection of production-line pop. Wagner wrote a batch of songs with Monrose producer Thomas Troelsen—his first extended collaboration with another songwriter—and the result was a collection of the sweetest Raveonettes songs to date. The giddy faux-naïveté of "Bang!" achieved a kind of pop perfection, while "Gone Forever" found a menacing element within Control's glossy presentation, and "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)" was the most devastating punch delivered inside a piece of pop candy since "He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss)." The album's highlight was the triumphant "Last Dance," a heartbreaking tale of overdose told by way of a devastating, yearning melody. The song masterfully mirrors its subject's enslavement to drugs with the narrator's own obsession, and does so in a crave-worthy production that compels its own addictions.
The highlights of Control were among the greatest recordings to come out of the tightly competitive Great Scandinavian Pop Wave of the past decade or so—even if Wagner and Foo were US residents by this point—and the result was the Raveonettes' most enjoyable album to date. But the group may have backed itself into a corner by sugarcoating the very elements that set them apart from the pack. In many respects, their latest album Raven in the Grave is a compensation for that shift—a brooding zag after Control's sunshiny zig. It's a relatively bleak and sparse album, with moments of serene beauty contained in its minimalism.
Upon first listen, opening track and lead single "Recharge and Revolt" seems to be the lone holdover from Control's candy- factory style, but the droning spaces and sorrowful shadows eventually assert themselves. With a single motif blaring over the course of five minutes, "Recharge" becomes Raven's statement of purpose: fewer moving parts, guitars soaking wet with reverb, Cold War-era blocs of synth, Wagner's voice transparently attempting to conceal the song's outward emotion.
The Foo-sung "Forget That You're Young" is another striking piece of the record's melodic minimalism—its gracefully constructed guitar patterns whir in repetition as the song's creepier lyrical elements present themselves: "And I hold you/And I forget that you're young/And I kiss you/And I know that you're so young." The narrator's ambiguity—is she wistful or predatory?—is a perfect example of the Raveonettes' masterful balance of sinister and elusively romantic. Like the best of their inventive and growing catalog, it sounds like disappearing rays of light making way for a chilly—but not hopeless—night.