Monday, September 19, 2005

American Grafitti

Another review to tide you over while I'm recovering from drinking beer in Eastern Europe:

The Raveonettes Pretty In Black (Columbia)

There are a couple things that you can tell about the Raveonettes at first listen: they are immersed in the ‘50’s. Specifically, the ‘50’s as defined by Americans… big cars, motorcycle gangs, and jukeboxes. You can also tell that they listened to a lot of Jesus and Mary Chain, and didn’t shy away from any type of Wall of Sound.

Pretty In Black, the third release from the Danish duo, show that they are more than the garage rock popsters stealing as much from Stereo Total’s particular pastiche as from the Ramones and the Ronettes. Literally. They actually got Ronnie Spector to do a beautifully sad vocal on the nostalgic “Ode To L.A.,” which is full of her trademark “whoa-oh-ohs,” alongside singer Sharon Foo’s pretty harmony. Their cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back,” written long ago for the Angels by one Richard Gottehrer (who also co-produced this very album) is a squelchy new wave synthesizer version which still smacks of the smarminess of the original. Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground contributes drums to a couple of tracks, and Suicide’s Martin Rev also guests on the album.

The first two Raveonettes releases were famously garage: each song under 3 minutes, using only 3 chords, in either B flat major or minor. This album gives up on that formula, and thankfully so. It shows a wonderful diversity without sacrificing what made the band interesting: their retro future sound, which mainly springs from the mind of the male half of the duo, Sune Rose Wagner. The twangy Buddy Holly (they named themselves after one of his songs) and Roy Orbison style guitars, the dreamy 60’s harmonies and echo chamber effects, the noisy early 90’s fuzz distortion… all of which make it sound familiar, but still recognizable as something new.

“Love In A Trashcan” and “Sleepwalking” most embody the current sound of the Raveonettes – two surging and dark pop songs with haunting melodies and attitude that sound just right on the back of a motorcycle on a dark Hollywood road. They foray into the Faint territory with their contribution to the dance floor, “Twilight,” a groovy surf number infected with strains of an altered “Twilight Zone” theme and some electronic percussion for extra oomph.

The Raveonettes have fully realized an album of such scope, within their realm, it’s as if they took Sonny & Cher and made them more badass… or Nancy & Lee and made them less weird.