No Love for Ra Ra Riot's New Sound
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 21:03
It is a fairly common occurrence in the music world for a band to change its sound. Whether prompted by boredom, innovation, aging or necessity, musicians must constantly strive to be culturally relevant. Enter Ra Ra Riot. The band, best known for their orchestral indie-pop has taken a big risk on their newest album, Beta Love, and completely changed their core sound, with less-than-stellar results.
After the 2010 release of their last album, The Orchard, the band lost their second member, cellist Alexandra Lawn. (The first, drummer John Ryan Pike, was mysteriously found in a river in Massachusetts after a gig in 2007.) With the string section that cemented their musical reputation cut in half, the band decided to take their music in a new direction, moving away from their specialized brand of baroque-pop influenced indie rock and towards the ’80s influenced electronic-heavy pop that many indie acts have found themselves drawn to in recent years.
This departure from their tried and true formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing — many bands before Ra Ra have changed their sound to resounding success (just look at Beck), though even more have found their fans alienated and disappointed. It is too early to tell where Beta Love will fall on this scale, but so far, it’s not looking too good.
Beta Love sounds like a watered-down, less meaningful version of Passion Pit’s Gossamer. While Ra Ra’s first two albums The Rhumb Line and The Orchard drew frequent and favorable comparisons to bands like Vampire Weekend and Coconut Records, there’s no mistaking the new Ra Ra Riot for this — or any — variety of chamber pop. Each song on Beta Love is perfectly manufactured to be catchy and toe the line of how much electronic manipulation is too much. With admittedly infectious backbeats and punchy vocals from lead singer Wes Miles, tracks like “I Shut Off” and “Dance With Me” could definitely make the crossover into more mainstream airwaves, but they lack the realistic human elements that were evident on The Rhumb Line that would make this album live up to its full potential.
These new influences are most obvious on two tracks in particular. On the title track, not even Miles’ characteristic voice is safe from the clutches of the sound editor. While it is true that a voice can be an instrument, in this case that adage is taken quite literally and the vocals take on the same tinny and almost grating electronic quality of the rest of the song’s synth beats. “Wilderness,” which is the closest thing to a ballad on the album, buzzes with wobbly sound effect that sound like they were produced by an amateur from the actual ’80s. The point of this kind of pop is to get inspiration from the music of the ’80s, not to sound like you just stepped out of a time machine from 1983.
Perhaps the most important detail of all that can’t be overlooked is that the bandmates all met during their time at a certain school with an obnoxiously fruit-like mascot. That’s right Hoyas. Ra Ra Riot went to Syracuse.