Are you yearning to time travel back to the early 80s?
Rather than go to the effort and expense of building your own
plutonium powered De Lorean/time machine all you need to do
is purchase the new Ra Ra Riot album, Beta Love.
The band Ra Ra Riot formed in 2006. Vocalist Wes Miles,
bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci, violinist Rebecca Zeller
and drummer John Ryan Pike met at Syracuse University. Almost
immediately their energetic live shows and eclectic Baroque pop
stylings generated considerable buzz.
By 2007 the band secured a spot at the prestigious South By
Southwest showcase in Austin, Texas. But tragedy struck when their
drummer, John Ryan Pike drowned in Buzzards Bay, Massachussetts.
Ra Ra Riot soldiered on with new drummer Kenny Bernard.
They released their critically acclaimed debut, The Rhumb Line, in
2008 and followed up in 2010 with their sophomore effort, The Orchard.
Their sound fit comfortably between bands like Arcade Fire,
Death Cab For Cutie and Vampire Weekend and they easily blended
in at Coachella and Lollapalooza.
With their new release, Beta Love, the band jettisons their
quirky brand of Chamber pop, instead adopting an Electronica style
that hews more closely with 80s synth stalwarts Depeche Mode and Yaz.
The album opens with the sugary rush of “Dance With Me.”
A thumping disco beat and bouncy keyboard fills conspire to make this
the first party anthem of 2013. But delve a little deeper and the lyrics
reveal a sad undercurrent of loneliness that permeates the whole record.
The instrumentation and arrangements on both “Binary Mind”
and the title track veer into “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto” territory.
On the former, the lyrics subscribe to scientist Ray Kurzweil’s theory
that one day computers and humans will merge and become indistinguishable…
“I wanna reach you with this binary mind, cuz if I do I’m sure that we’ll
be complete.”
“Beta Love” combines soaring falsetto vocals, synthesized sounds
that plink, plunk, bloop and bleep with lyrics that yearn for love in a
future age… “In this city of robot hearts, ours were made to beat.”
The best tracks on Beta Love blend real human emotions
with arid, antiseptic instrumentation. On “Angel, Please,” the lines
are blurred between substance abuse and love addiction.
“Is It Too Much” is a combo platter of heartbreak beats,
squiggly guitar riffs, tinkling keyboard fills and sweet harmonies.
Salted in the mix are lyrics that explore “Cats-In-The-Cradle” style
Daddy issues. (It almost is too much!)
Finally, “That Much” threads an idiosyncratic drum pattern
through lyrics that confront death…”Waiting for the day that she can
rest/ I live waiting for that day.” The song really kicks into gear with
an honest to goodness guitar solo that skitters, scratches and sputters
punching holes through the pristine melody.
Other highlights include the kinetic pep talk of “For Once,” and
the minimalist “What I Do For You.” On “Wilderness” shimmery
synths camouflage sorrowful lyrics… “Oh despair, I’ve had enough
going through this whole affair.” “When I Dream” is shot through
with romantic recriminations mixing bravado and heartbreak.
The album closes with “I Shut Off.” Here the rhythm track
echoes the throbbing pulse of 80s arcade game, “Space Invaders.”
The tune locks into an infectious dance groove as the dour lyrics
burrow deep into hopeless desolation.
Ra Ra Riot had some help crafting Beta Love.
Production chores were handled by veteran Dennis Herring.
Herring actually has been around since the 80s, helming albums
for artists as disparate as Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, Concrete
Blonde, Camper Van Beethoven, the Hives and Waaves.
Not only did Herring record the album at his Sweet Tea studios
in Oxford Mississippi, he also co-wrote five songs.
Stylistically, Beta Love references everyone from
Devo to the Scissor Sisters. The album is a heady, intoxicating
brew that juxtaposes piquant melodies and somber themes.
Angst has never been this danceable!