Album: Beta Love
Artist: Ra Ra Riot
It took a month of listening to Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love, to realize that the faint hopes I have entertained since 2008 will linger in limbo for eternity; the band will never make another record like The Rhumb Line. The melancholic cello and violin backdrops that defined that album are a thing of the past. Having been closely affiliated with Vampire Weekend (lead singer Wes Miles formed a band called The Sophisticuffs with Ezra Koenig in grade school), the group now seems to be doing all they can to distance themselves from the Ivy League-influenced chamber pop roots that first drew critics to compare the two.
For what it’s worth, Ra Ra Riot has done an admirable job of adjusting to life without departed cellist Alexandra Lawn. This time around, Miles may have drawn inspiration from Discovery, his side-project with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist/producer). Beta Love is rife with fluttering keyboards and futuristic synths, and inspired lyrically by the band’s reading of Ray Kurzweil’s novel The Singularity Is Near. The title track is an embrace of the band’s newfound affinity for technology, and is one of the strongest moments on the album with Miles showcasing his high vocal range. “Is It Too Much” finds bassist Mathieu Santos repurposed as a keyboard player and coyly toying with fans of the old baroque style. But just when one is tempted to start reminiscing about Rhumb Line, Miles interjects with cacophonic, distorted vocals.
Other tracks struggle with the band’s ambiguous desire to use every production tool at their disposal as the instruments are placed in a bitter fight to shine through the convoluted mess. When Rebecca Zeller’s violin is heard, it couldn’t sound more dissonant. But that isn’t always the case, as her impassioned playing on “Angel, Please” lends Miles’ playful pleas of “please stay with me” a light-hearted, airy quality that brings to mind the earnest pursuit of a first love.
The album’s flaw lies in its top-heavy nature; the last five tracks are slow to build and far from gratifying. Barring those exceptions, Beta Love’s first six songs would be a great addition to any party’s playlist.