THE RAVEONETTES with Vue and the Sounds at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (May 30). $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
There's something depressing in the state of Denmark. Just ask Sharin Foo, one half of moody Danish garage brooders the Raveonettes. With musical partner Sune Rose Wagner, Foo formulates darkly dirgey three-chord rock that sounds like wrist-slitting New Order channelled through the driving urgency of the Stooges.
Featuring Nico-esque bloodless vocals hovering above a wall of droning guitar noise, the tunes on Whip It On (Columbia), their lauded debut EP recorded entirely in "glorious B-flat minor," fall into shuffling shape behind a tradition of dismal Danes from Hamlet all the way to the bare-bones Dogme 95 aesthetic.
"You wouldn't think it, 'cause it's a very charming country and everybody seems to be very content, but Denmark actually has one of the highest suicide rates in the world," muses Foo on the line from London, her adopted home.
"I guess everything's so easy that people start to think about what the purpose of everything is. People get too existential. It can be very boring in Denmark. The weather is very depressing - it's always raining, and it can be very grey.
"True, Denmark also has that fairy-tale dynamic, the whole Hans Christian Andersen sweet, charming thing, but it's still quite dark. It definitely does speak to a lot of people - that whole Dogme thing."
The Raveonettes have translated that rigorous Danish Dogme aesthetic into their own work. Primary songwriter Wagner worked his disenchantment with the "pathetic and pretentious" pop music he listened to during a stint living in L.A. into a now much-publicized rock 'n' roll manifesto with a set of strict rules: no hi-hat or ride cymbals, three chords, songs lasting no longer than three minutes.
Factor in a fondness for the arch noirishness of Hitchcock (the Raveonettes' first video, shot last week in Copenhagen, is a B-movie thriller homage to the portly auteur) and a determination to record albums in a single key (their upcoming full-length spins the B-flat minor doldrums into B-flat major chirpiness), and you've got a quirkily intriguing rock concept that's winning over the most jaded critics.
At the very least, it impressed Rolling Stone éminence grise David Fricke, who raved about the Raveonettes after catching their set at CBGB's last summer. Foo says she's pleased that his praise exploded into a hurricane of hype for the duo, since it's snagged them attention outside their less-than-welcoming hometown.
"We're actually not very big in Denmark. When we released our first mini-album, people didn't like it. People need the recognition from somewhere else to think it's a good thing. Maybe it's an inferiority complex or something.
"There's a philosophy in this country that there are supposed to be no elites. You're not supposed to think you're better than anyone else. People don't approve of ambition. You're not supposed to be too career-minded or too disciplined; you're just supposed to relax and hang out with other people."