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Rave on

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“I want the simple beat of the Cramps. I want the drone of Suicide. I want the noise of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the party vibe of the B-52’s, the vocals of the Everly Brothers, the songwriting of Buddy Holly…”

As reported in this interview with Sharin Foo from Danish duo the Raveonettes, this was apparently the somewhat eclectic mission statement devised by her bandmate Sune Rose Wagner for the band. Always a dangerous thing, mission statements, as they can make ready ammunition for critics to beat the band with. How well, then, do the Raveonettes fulfil the plan?

On the evidence of their debut EP Whip It On, the answer so far appears to be “partly”. I don’t know about the Buddy Holly songwriting and I’m straining to discern a B-52s party vibe, but you can make out the others without much effort, particularly Suicide and the J&MC. Is the resulting work any good, though? That’s another matter altogether. Sharin Foo from the aforementioned interview:

“If you hear it for the first time, it might all sound quite like the same thing,” Foo says about their repertoire. “It’s a challenge to be our audience. You have to make an effort to understand through all the drone — because it becomes a drone, but it’s also really mesmerizing in another sense.”

Wherein lies the problem, in a way, since to a certain degree Whip It On is designed to sound the same. The band set out to produce music along fairly minimal lines. Each song would be in the same key (B flat minor), each would only have three chords, each would clock in at less than three minutes (two songs on the EP actually break the three minute mark but we’ll let that pass), each would be composed of guitar, bass, vocals, and drum machine. It’s no wonder if things begin to blur and sound much like everything else, then.

The vocals are somewhat emblematic of the EP’s problems. Both Wagner and Foo sing each song together in pretty much the same breathy, laidback style, and it doesn’t entirely work. The coolness is too studied and it irritates me. The racket never gets quite wild enough as a result, despite some impressive deployment of fuzz at various moments; they never quite throw themselves into it. Individual songs are all right (“Beat City”, the last track, is probably the relative standout) but as a whole, across even the 21 minutes these eight songs take to unfurl, it’s kind of wearying.

Apparently for live dates the Raveonettes expand to a quartet with second guitarist and actual drummer. Maybe this is what they need to do on record; as it stands, if they’re trying to recapture something of the early Jesus and Mary Chain sound, getting a live person to do the Bobby Gillespie thing (basic but suitable heavy reverb-laden drumbeat) could be a bonus. There’s a full-length album in the pipeline; it’ll be interesting to hear if they use that to expand on the formula they’ve currently got.

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