Monday, February 18, 2008

The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust

The Raveonettes
Lust Lust Lust (Vice Records, 2008)
Grade: A-

Download: The Raveonettes - "Aly, Walk With Me"
Download: The Raveonettes - "Dead Sound"

The Raveonettes are a Danish pop duo who've somehow managed to sustain themselves on a cult-like devotion to simplicity for its own sake. Past releases such as Whip It On and Chain Gang Of Love have certainly had their charms, but have also been hindered by gimmicky premises and constraints, such as having entire albums being in the same key. Their last album, Pretty In Black, expanded the group's sonic palette by reducing the distortion of their past two albums, adding various guests (including Ronnie Spector and Moe Tucker), new members and styles like disco and new wave.

In that context, Lust Lust Lust, the group's newest album, might strike some listeners as a regression. While the band returns to the girl-group-with-Stockholm-Syndrome-for-The-Velvet-Underground sound of their first record, Whip It On, they also have kept the expanded arrangements of their third. The result makes Lust Lust Lust a strong, assertive step forward for The Raveonettes.

That newfound sense of confidence is apparent on the very first track, "Aly, Walk With Me". Over a metronomic, but seductively noir, trip-hop beat and a fuzzed-out bass line, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo hypnotically harmonize about strolling around cities like Portland and New York, as well as less tangible areas like one's dreams. The minor-key guitar lines that sporadically appear during the verses portend the white noise that arrives at "Aly"'s end, a wall-of-sound with enough distortion to make Stephen Meritt blush. By the time Aly finishes walking around the listener's heads, it's become perfectly clear that the song is easily the most mature and sensual piece of music that the band has written to date.

While "Aly, Walk With Me" might make listeners think that The Raveonettes have outgrown the playful, flirtatious energy of past records, songs like "Hallucinations" and "Blitzed" show up to serve as the link between the old and the new. What's different about these songs as compared to the tracks that were on Chain Gave Of Love is the difference between how an amateur and a professional use simplicity. The amateur keeps it simple, stupid, because they don't have enough musical knowledge to do anything else. The professional keeps it simple because that's what the song calls for, and they know exactly what to play and when to play it.

The Raveonettes announce themselves as being the latter by using space ("Lust" is particularly effective at using dynamics barely louder than a whisper), distortion and muted percussion in ways that bring remarkable color and shape to what are otherwise straightforward pop songs - no more than three or four chords per song. But the group impeccably combines Phil Spector's symphonic touches with the shoegazer atmospherics of Alan Mould to create a warm blanket of ambience over the entire album.

But having great production does not a great album make. No, you need songs for that, and Lust Lust Lust has those in spades. With his album, The Ravenettes have finally eschewed artifice and have written 12 eminently listenable songs. "You Want The Candy" and "Dead Sound" don't reinvent the Raveonettes noise-pop wheel, but they do perfect it by adding a great deal of melodic variety that wasn't present before. Similarly, "Sad Transmission" and "The Beat Dies" sound like girl-group standards of the past, but subtle production touches and newfound songwriting maturity help propel those tracks to album highlight status.

Subsequent releases will tell whether or not that the sophistication that The Raveonettes have developed on Lust Lust Lust is a matter of true growth or whether the band just got lucky. For now, Lust Lust Lust will just have to unequivocally stand as one of the first truly great records of the year.

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(Jonathan Graef)

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