Think of it as Ra Ra Riot 3.0 testing out a new sound. While long term fans might be dismayed by Ra Ra Riot eschewing their chamber pop roots, it’s not a real surprise since they have changed a bit with every album. This still-youngish band has been through quite a few changes since they started and the new album is no exception.
In some ways it’s business as usual with Wes Miles’s high tenor voice leading the band. But this new dance rock album sounds like Fleetwood Mac, Bronski Beat, and Erasure’s children started making music after partying together at a disco. It might not sound much like how they started, but it’s definitely going to crank up your party.
The loss of what makes them so unique is somewhat distressing. Cellist Alexandra Lawn’s departure means they lost some of the string work. Violinist Rebecca Zeller is still there, but her violin work sounds mostly like disco flourishes rather than the integral basis of any of the song as on the impressionistic prior album “The Orchard” or that early gem of a single “Can You Tell.” They’ve also toned down the afro-poppiness they sometimes delved into.
It’s hard to say with any certainty that this musical departure has anything to do with Lawn leaving the band last year as even “The Orchard” was different from their prior work. For those who aren’t aware, their initial songwriter and drummer John Pike drowned after a show in Rhode Island in 2008. They have dedicated each album to his memory and their rotating drummer slot indicates their unhappiness with anyone else. “The Orchard” was the first time they wrote music without him. The musical departure may have come from Miles’ real taste in music as a part time DJ as well as Mathieu Santos gaining some confidence through his solo album.
There are a few missteps on the album. The distortion to Wes Miles voice on “When I Dream” is a disappointment since he has quite a good voice for belting out a soulful Bee Gees falsetto over hip hop bass. That being said, they are very talented musicians who put together an interesting, fun, and well-played album. “What I Do For You” has some cool musical effects with alternating tempos and meters and “Wilderness” toys with a 2 against 3 beat (like their friends Vampire Weekend) laid over hip hop bass lines.
Fans of the old sound will still find a few gems on the new album, particularly “That Much,” “What I Do For You” and the closing number “I Shut Off” which still fits into the techno theme lyrically. Even if you don’t like all of the changes, you’ll still be snapping your fingers, dancing in your seat, or at the least nodding your head while you drive to work. But then, you always could dance to their music at their concerts. The band will gain fans with the new sound.
For more info about Ra Ra Riot visit www.RaRaRiot.com which has show announcements, news, and further links. They will be opening for The Postal Service and The Shins in 2013. Please enjoy the video for “Beta Love” which uses footage from video dance shows from the 1980s.