Album Review: Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

Ra Ra Riot 2“Ra Ra Riot are a band that know how to shift gears, as they have done so well before. Hopefully they’ll be able to find steadier footing next time…”

Ra Ra Riot  |  Beta Love

Ra Ra Riot are a synth pop band. No, seriously. The indie rock outfit have hung up their string section for an album and replaced it with heavy synth and pop hooks. For listeners who may have just found Ra Ra Riot, this album is a treat. Its catchy, upbeat synth pop at its best; however, for those accustomed to the stylings of this Syracuse, NY based indie outfit, you may be disappointed. The five piece outfit’s latest offering, Beta Love, is challenging, not in the worst way, but not in an overly positive way either. Instead, the album briskly stumbles through eleven tracks to culminate in a light and ultimately mediocre release.

Transgression of genre can be a dangerous game. While it can sometimes revitalize, it breaks bands just as often. While Ra Ra Riot’s merits are not without noting, they ultimately mismanage their new sound. Typically, the bands discography is not jarring. The previously indie rock outfit had once embraced a neutral sound hinged on strings and a strong chamber music influence; however, now the band has moved to embody many of the qualities of the current indie pop movement. Though a departure may have been needed, Beta Love is more abandonment.

Now this may sound like a cynic’s diatribe, but I assure you it is not. On the surface, Beta Love should have worked for a number of reasons. With the recent departure of their cellist and the help of producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse), Beta Love appeared to be a bookend and turning point for the band. Yet, despite this, the album never quite finds its niche. Despite poor cohesion though, the album does offer some high points (check tracks ‘Angel, Please’ and ‘Binary Mind’). Vocalist Wes Miles churns soothing vocals throughout the album, but against a noisy synth laden backdrop they are somewhat dampened. Additionally, percussion manages a sparse presence, but when present, it counts.

In lieu of some redeeming characteristics though, this record possesses one damning quality: lack of identity. Where quirky auxiliary percussion can be felt on some tracks (‘Angel, Please’) there isn’t a whole lot of soul on Beta Love. Instead, of standout tracks that compliment one another, Ra Ra Riot have pieced together a bland whole where the modern trappings of indie pop have replaced the once lush soundscapes.

Ra Ra Riot were not wrong in looking to move past their sound; however, it’s clear that the direction chosen was not the best option. Ultimately, Beta Love is more drastic departure than reimagining. As they have now explored the current indie pop trend, hopefully they’ll be able to better implement the genre’s qualities moving forward. Ra Ra Riot are a band that know how to shift gears, as they have done so well before. Hopefully they’ll be able to find steadier footing next time.



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