While reviewing Feral Media’s tenth anniversary compilation, I wrote that raven was an artist I’d like to hear more from. I got my wish when raven’s album was released on New Year’s Day. Combine a new year, a new album, and a new resolution: one can’t help but believe the three are related. The new album includes “Headache Music #1”, which was first featured on that compilation, plus four other similarly excellent songs, a dance track, an edit and a cover tune.
Astute readers may note that a specific adjective was not repeated in the last sentence. As New resolution is itself a compilation of sorts, collecting tracks recorded “for compilations, radio, film and private use”, it comes across as somewhat haphazard. If the album were only tracks 1-4 and 8, it would be one of the season’s best, a master study in how to combine cello, piano and processed electronics to form an emotional cluster. But as soon as a repetitive beat invades the fifth track, the spell is broken and the excitement begins to dissipate. A dance edit of “Headache Music” recovers some of the good will; but then a vocal incursion – a raven version of telafonica’s “there’s something about your face” – derails the flow. Yet what seems like criticism is actually a compliment. Pure raven is the best raven, and the rest is simply unnecessary.
Now that we’ve gotten the hard stuff out of the way, we’re free to talk about the heart of the matter: the beguiling 36-minute mini-album hidden within New resolution. This album strikes at just the right time, as the market has become flooded with similar-sounding cello albums as of late. raven’s wise combination of “live looped, acoustic and processed cello” possesses a timbre unique to the artist; after hearing this album, one would be able to identify other tracks by raven as well. The simple fact that raven has been able to establish a signature sound so quickly is worth our admiration. At times the cello is played like an upright bass. At others we hear dark strokes, pluckings and slow, light draws. The tappings and shakes are reminiscent of Hauschka’s prepared piano work, especially his recent collaboration with violinist Hilary Hahn. The second half of “sleeping dogs lie” showcases something that sounds like marbles being dropped and rolled along a wooden floor. raven is also brave enough to tackle the lengthy piece: “the deafening clamour of distant cars” may top out at 12:20, but it’s also the album’s best selection. Beats are present here as well, but they sneak in halfway to enhance the piece instead of serving as its backbone.
Is it too much to hope for a second wish to be granted? Now that we’ve heard more from raven, our wish is very simple: a follow-up that plays only to raven’s strengths and leaves the dance tracks and vocals behind. (Richard Allen)