The Raveonettes are one of many bands working today who’ve outlasted their initial buzz only to stick to a well-defined aesthetic rather than making inroads into uncharted territory. We’ve seen it before–bands see one of their early albums blow up, build on a dedicated fanbase, then continue to release consistently enjoyable records rather than one immensely exceptional one, becoming an act that comes into town every 18 months without fail until you realize with shock: “How have I seen the Hold Steady five times?” For the Raveonettes, the narrative follows similar: They broke into the Stateside scene with 2002’s Whip It On EP, an effortlessly cool pastiche of biker chic, Spectoresque walls of guitars wrapped around coy pop come-ons, black & white nostalgia and icy beauty by way of bassist Sharin Foo, a guaranteed mainstay of any unfortunate “Hottest Women in Rock & Roll” list. But after an aborted attempt to hit that next tier of indie popularity with 2005’s Pretty in Black, they went back to basics, seeming content to continue playing within the confines of shoegaze and that great love sound.
Of Raven In The Grave, Foo remarked, “None of the tunes have any real sunshine to them. It’s all very un-Rave.” Pause for a second: the Raveonettes have never been known for their shining optimism, but Raven has them exploring chillier emotions amongst a widening sonic palette. Opener “Recharge & Revolt” sounds the most like a “traditional” Raveonettes song, ringing with familiar feedback, but they sound a half-step before physical collapse like they’re soundtracking the denouement of a disappointing night on the town. It’s always been tricky to tell Sune Rose Wagner and Foo apart– their flat, affectless voices intertwining like genderless twins– but they sound a lot more resigned to their hollow emotional conclusions.
The music belies that gloomy feeling, taking the band out of dive bars and into seedier night clubs. There’s “Evil Seeds,” which melds the KLF with the traditional Jesus and Mary Chain homages, and “Apparitions,” in which the band sings of joining rebel angels “like apparitions of sympathy,” backed by descending synths and crinkling distortion that cracks open halfway through in a awesome squall of feedback. They’ve rejected any easily explained emotions, and the resulting sexual tension is more palpable than anything they’ve ever done, even the song that went “My girl is a little animal / She always wants to fuck.” It extends to the breathy love songs, like lead single “Forget That You’re Young” and “Summer Moon,” which channel a sepulchral tone as the band always seems poised to describe a feeling that’s on the tip of their tongues, making their way through muted after images of parties and lovers.
In interviews, Wagner has stated that he tried to capture a feeling of restlessness and deterioration in several of the songs, and it’s certainly the most understated record the band has released to date. By the time he sings “My time’s up / And I don’t care / How I feel / I just don’t care” on the album’s final song, they’ve escaped nostalgia for a more solitary sense of loss, one that can only be described through images like a raven in the grave. Bleariness and monochrome sexual appeal are more popular than they were when the Raveonettes first broke, so you wonder how they’d be received had this been their first record, not their fifth.