Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love
by Tom Doherty (Journalism), published January 30th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Since their inception in 2006, Ra Ra Riot has comfortably fit into their own niche of the indie-rock scene. From their self-titled debut EP to 2010 sophomore album The Orchard, the band complemented Wesley Miles’ vocals with heavy doses of string instrumentation. The violin and cello were essential to Ra Ra Riot’s danceable chamber pop.
But in February of 2012, Alexandra Lawn announced that she and her cello would be leaving Ra Ra Riot, and the band never found a replacement. Is that because Ra Ra Riot thought Lawn’s cello talents to be irreplaceable or because the band saw an opportunity to expand their image? Judging by the synth-laden Beta Love, the latter seems possible at the very least.
Beta Love represents a mid-life crisis for a band that felt trapped by its own sound. It is a drastic shift from the tried-and-true baroque pop they once employed to ultramodern synth-pop. It certainly cannot be said that Ra Ra Riot made this transition half-heartedly – that enthusiasm is the saving grace of this record. The best tracks are those that buy into this concept of futurism. The band claims the inspiration behind Beta Love was the work of futuristic authors William Gibson and Ray Kurzweil, and those songs that draw upon these inspirations are intelligently done, with their clever lyrics as the focal point instead of overbearing synths.
“Binary Mind,” the album’s second track, is its most blatant ode to the futuristic concept contained within Beta Love and also the highlight of the album. Throughout the song, Miles refers to his body as an object (“This body that I own”), not an extension of himself. Miles cries that “it’s a technocratic future world” at the track’s deliberate heart. “Angel, Please” is another rare highlight for the album. It is no coincidence that this track harkens back to Ra Ra Riot’s old sound, even if that sound is relegated to the background.
But for every “Binary Mind”, Beta Love has a pair of grating tracks like “That Much” and “What I Do for U.” “That Much” oozes with the influence of Passion Pit from the outset, but devolves into a track of cringe-worthy excess. The explosions of annoying buzzing will make you want to tear your headphones off. “What I Do for U” is a mess of a track and the supreme example of where Ra Ra Riot went wrong on this album. Far too often throughout Beta Love, Wesley Miles’ vocals compete with the burdensome synths his band has embraced. On the rare occasions that they coexist instead of conflict, the potential of Ra Ra Riot 2.0 is obvious, and the ceiling is higher than Passion Pit Lite.
Synths have been added to Ra Ra Riot’s arsenal in Beta Love, but they do not make up for what they lost. Bands should seek to evolve their sound, but change is a fickle thing and difficult to execute. Ra Ra Riot is no longer “that chamber-pop band.” So far, what they have become is no better.
Well, Ra Ra Riot is definitely not a one-trick pony anymore. Mission accomplished, I guess.
Recommended Tracks: Binary Mind, Angel Please