Posts tagged: Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

By , January 26, 2013 12:00 pm


Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

Arts & Crafts 2013

Rating: 4/10

Clichés suck, but damn if Beta Love doesn’t qualify for the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. Beta Love itself is sort of a cliché as it is, its music resembling the same kind of rote, brain-dead saying that is force-fed you throughout life at moments that might make you think the dystopian world of Office Space isn’t too far away. The drudgery here isn’t so much a case-of-the-Mondays as a pungent whiff of desperation, a band turning to a genre long since strip-mined to recover some intangible sense of relevance. 2010’s underrated The Orchard was largely ignored by critics and the same fickle public that had made them a buzzworthy group in 2008 and slapped them with a label as crafty and complex as “Vampire Weekend with strings,” yet at least it had soul and feeling, two things that are largely lacking from the mechanical Beta Love. Perhaps the departure of both cellist Alexandra Lawn and drummer Gabe Duquette (the secret ingredient to The Orchard’s success) and various touring struggles necessitated a change, but for much of its running length Beta Love sounds like a half-baked experiment, all knob-fiddling and jagged programming, candied indie-disco hooks that sound tinny and tapped out. It’s not for lack of commitment – Beta Love doubles down hard on an electro-pop sound that comes off as a strong advocate of cheesy ‘80s pop tropes and beating an innocent drum machine to death. Rather, it’s such an abrupt left turn for the band that, for all of its relentlessly chipper four-on-the-floor ecstasy and an ADD ethos that is almost Euro in its manic intensity, it sounds like a fake-out, a grinning rictus for the cameras and the blogs.

The songwriting is still there, thankfully. Hooks like that on “Binary Mind” and the jittery “Angel Please” bounce out of the speakers and seem to embed themselves in your spine, closely approximating certain party favors these restless tunes seem determined to emulate. The guitar solo that stutters through the feedback and rips itself up before resounding into something resembling a pleasant surprise on “That Much” is just the kind of 8-bit titty-twisting that would have been nice to see the band develop further. Instead, however, the hooks tend to come in one of two flavors, be it the propulsive, ready-made dance-floor hit (the aforementioned “Binary Mind” and the skittish “I Shut Off” are probably the best of these, hectic and unhinged energy that is fun in the moment) or relatively midtempo synth-pop (presumably standing in for what would be ballads on another record). Wes Miles, possessor of one of the finer voices in indie rock, races from one end of the scale to another, alternating campy, fun performances like “Angel Please” with octave-stretching reaches like “Beta Love,” with his voice occasionally approaching an absurd, almost pixie-ish quality. Violinist Rebecca Zeller soldiers on with Lawn gone, yet the splicing in of her parts sound like the hurried addition of a frantic producer or the kind of chintzy effect a regular four-piece might cook up, because, you know, strings and shit. It’s a far cry from the organic textures of the band’s past work, where Zeller and Lawn were no less an essential part of the mix than the guitar and drums. The lyrics, reportedly drawing inspiration from “the works of cyberpunk novelist William Gibson and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s musings on technological singularity and transhumanism,” are just as freshman English as you’d expect, groping for a message while everything else on Beta Love is merely content to just shake its ass.

It’s a disconcerting tonal shift, one that gets lost in its own medium as much as it garbles the message it’s ostensibly trying to make. The songs are still there, those hooks hard to resist, a strong pop foundation that is hard to crack despite the trashy synths reaching critical mass here. Yet it lacks the heart that made The Orchard such a rewarding listen, and with its tacky electro-pop sound may lead them to becoming more indistinguishable than they might have been accused of being before. The result is an unfortunately hollow album, recycled in its sound and empty in its emotion.

Beta Love marks Ra Ra Riot's first outing as a four-piece. Inspired by their lean new lineup (with Wes Miles on vocals, Milo Bonacci on guitar, Mathieu Santos on bass and Rebecca Zeller on violin), the recording process found the band members expanding and re-defining their roles within the new makeup of the group. They built upon demos created mostly by Miles and producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, Wavves) at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, MS. Joined by session drummer Josh Freese (Devo, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer) the band enjoyed exploring its potential, experimenting with new influences and exciting sounds.
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Geographer – Lover’s Game

By , March 8, 2012 10:00 am

Geographer fits in quite nicely with your synth-oriented indie outfits – your Starfucker, your Discovery – but the rub isn’t in the electronics or spot-on melodies, but rather in Michael Deni’s voice, which could more fittingly be likened to that of an angel (or Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles, if we’re going by earthly comparisons). It’s his soaring alto that directs everything with soulful ease, but it’s also Nathan Blaz’s electric cello and the careful layering of electronic effects, filters and reverbs and loops stacked precariously on top of each other, that make Geographer more than just your average electro band. Their second LP, Myth, came out on Modern Art at the end of February – “Lover’s Game” is a sunny standout in typically triumphant Geographer fashion. I also happened to see them live this past Sunday and heartily recommend catching them in your town if you can – they sound even better live.

Geographer – “Lover’s Game”

Geographer started with the courageous decision to turn negative circumstances into positive ambitions. In 2008, Mike was escaping strife within his family, & found himself picking up an abandoned synthesizer off the street in San Francisco. He began to reinvent himself through music, and simultaneously met Nathan & Brian, which led to the formation of Geographer. After releasing their highly acclaimed LP Innocent Ghost& EP Animal Shapes, Geographer teamed up with producer Eli Crews (tUnE yArDs, Beulah) & mixer Chris Zane (Passion Pit, Walkmen) to scrupulously craft the 2012 record Myth.
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Best of 2010

By , December 30, 2010 8:00 am

Happy holidays everyone. Below are my Top 20 of 2010, chosen using a complex statistical formula and thousands of man-hours. Anyone who wants to party with the Klap for New Year’s 2011 should come to the wonderful, wholesome city of Las Vegas. See you all in the new year.


Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies

+1 Records

Released: November 30

Outstanding food concept notwithstanding, Delicacies is a delicious tech-house treat, all weirded-out bleeps and ghostly bloops that are at times incredibly creepy and others strangely bouncy. I have no idea how this is going to translate live (probably with a healthy dose of psychedelics), but after last year’s weak pop outing, Simian is back on track here.


Delta Spirit – History From Below


Released: June 8

It’s always a pleasure to see a band grow, and combining that with one of my favorite genres in Americana makes History From Below one of the year’s most exciting releases. Much of the credit must go to singer Matthew Vasquez, whose growth into a true barroom singer is remarkable.


Four Tet – There Is Love In You


Released: January 26

There’s always bound to be some repetition in an IDM release, and it’s what usually turns me off on the genre, but Four Tet has truly created a masterpiece with his seventh album, one that has a definite organic quality to it that adds a vibrant layer to the discordant loops and drum samples that make up his work. It’s dense and challenging at times, but it never ceases to be enjoyable.


Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard


Released: August 24

Beating Vampire Weekend at their own game, Ra Ra Riot avoid the sophomore slump by slowing things down and bringing out the best in the band – Wes Miles’ brilliant vocals, the warm dimension the strings bring to their sound, and drummer Gabriel Duquette’s unheralded rhythm work that ties everything together.


Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Dead Oceans

Released: May 11

In an off year for alt-country Matt Houck stepped up to the plate and delivered a straightforward home run, all muscular slide guitar and folky twang. But the best part is Houck’s melodies, which are fleshed out and given new life with the colorful compositions offered by his expanded sound.


Serena Maneesh – No. 2: Abyss in B Minor

4AD Records

Released: March 23

Criminally overlooked shoegaze out of Norway, Serena Maneesh crafted some of the strangest, most endearing music of the year. This isn’t your older brother’s shoegaze; this plain rocks, with angular riffs and thudding bass lines seemingly more suited for prog than pop. But for all its oddness, it’s an album that refuses to be ignored, and I’d gladly take this over the Ambien most shoegaze bands proffer up nowadays.


Spoon – Transference

Merge Records

Released: January 19

It speaks to Spoon’s consistency that I consider a #14 finish an off year for them. Transference finds the band more comfortable with their own sound than ever before, relishing in the live environment the album was created in and even letting their ties loose a little bit, meandering about on songs like “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You.” It’s not as consistent as previous releases, but it doesn’t have to be – Spoon like where they are, and they sound damn fine with it.


Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing


Released: May 4

Paul Sprangers sings about girls and summer love and absolutely nothing of higher import because, frankly, that’s all he wants to sing about. It’s unfortunate that Stuck on Nothing was released in the spring, because it’s a summer record through and through. Beach cruising, salty air and salty hair, bikinis, breezy car trips, pool parties, Slurpees that always seem too damn drippy, the smell of tanning lotion, sand that will stay in my car for way too many months, days and days of doing whatever the hell you want – Free Energy have made a soundtrack for all of these things, and made it seem effortless in the bargain.


Rogue Wave – Permalight

Brushfire Records

Released: March 2

Permalight came out at just the right time for me, lifting me out of the February doldrums with passionate, high-energy indie pop that seemed all too easy and potentially canned. But there was something about Permalight that made me look past its clichéd sentiments and sometimes drab choruses – this is a record that was positively sunny, one that bared all without shame or any sense of self-consciousness, and was the better for it. If I want to be happy, I listen to this.


Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Def Jam

Released: July 11

This was a banner year for big name rappers, and Big Boi was no exception – up until November The Son of Chico Dusty was the rap record of the year, and another bit of evidence to suggest that maybe Outkast wasn’t all Andre 3000’s show (where the hell has that guy been, anyway?). Southern rap has never been this enjoyable and innovative.


Steel Train – Steel Train


Released: June 29

Along with Free Energy, Steel Train showed me that sometimes, good rock ‘n roll can be just that; no gimmicks, no existentialist musings, no 20-minute-plus compositions swollen with strings and harps and timpani. Steel Train put their money down on ace melodies and that simple trifecta of rock: guitar, bass, drums. They only come out with some of the best songs of the year, sugary offerings that are no less potent because they revel in their hooks and sing-a-long capabilities. Not to mention a song of the year in the heartrending “Fall Asleep.”


The Black Keys – Brothers


Released: May 18

Speaking of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, The Black Keys are back to doing what they do best on Brothers. It’s hard-hitting, bluesy rock ‘n roll; bluesy like the delta, bluesy like the Sun Studio in the early ‘60s, and Brothers is nothing if not a painstakingly well made time capsule by two of the best musicians in the business. Few bands can sound like they come from another era, but the Black Keys pull it off with ease.


Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Def Jam

Released: November 22

I like to use Kanye West’s own Twitter to describe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: “”This is rock and roll life my people . . . you can’t stop the truth you can’t stop the music and I have to be strong or ‘they’ win!!!;” “I can’t be everybody’s hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ!;” “I have decided to become the best rapper of all time! I put it on my things to do in this lifetime list!” Besides an abundance of exclamation points, Kanye’s often hilarious Twitter is everything that made his newest album such a masterpiece, from his Christ complex to his feuding with the media to his undeniable artistic brilliance. Guy might be a little crazy, but weren’t all the best a bit off?


Wolf Parade – Expo 86

Sub Pop

Released: June 29

Maybe Wolf Parade will never be able to recapture that spastic one-off brilliance that was their debut, but Expo 86 proves that maybe they don’t need to. It’s the band’s most cohesive collection of tracks to date, successfully ranging from Krug’s typically obtuse offerings to Boeckner’s more pop-oriented rock tunes. Most of all, it proves that Wolf Parade are still the visionary songwriters we thought we lost with At Mount Zoomer, and that’s a relief.


The National – High Violet

4AD Records

Released: May 11

My road to finally realizing High Violet was right up there with Boxer and Alligator was a long one, and it took me until a long road trip six months after its release to see it for what it was: what I initially saw as boring and uninspired was actually a more mellow National, one less prone to emotional outbursts and not quite as energetic, but a wiser National, one who had a firmer grip on life’s realities and even more questions about it. It’s a fascinating listen, built around Matt Berninger’s wry observations and Bryan Devendorf’s continually amazing drumming, and a more confident record than anything the National have done to date.


Noisia – Split the Atom

Indie Europe/Zoom (Import)

Released: November 30 (USA)

Noisia’s first proper LP is a shining example of everything good that can happen when a groundbreaking trio mashes all their influences together and produces something truly original. Split the Atom has it all: breaks, electro, drum n bass, funk, house, et cetera. It’s a mishmash of styles that never seems like it’s about to collapse – the Dutch group have collected everything they admire about electronica and make it their own. Noisia are not afraid to take some risks, and Split the Atom promises to be the first in a long line of relentless, heart-stopping party starters.


The Walkmen – Lisbon

Fat Possum

Released: September 14

“I am a good man by any count / and I see better things to come” Hamilton Leithauser sings on opener “Juveniles,” and if there’s a better mission statement for Lisbon I haven’t found it. This is the sound of the Walkmen settling into a sweet spot, building on the rich palette of sounds they cooked up on 2008’s You & Me and imbuing it with a sense of warmth and a pleasant glow that pervades all the material here and lies in stark contrast to the band’s earlier material, which was as fiery and tense as their hometown of New York City. The National might get all the hype for being the next great American rock band, but the Walkmen would have something to say about that.


The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Dead Oceans

Released: April 13

With a voice that only a Billy Corgan could love (at least at first), Sweden’s Kristian Matsson’s sophomore record was an unlikely album of the year contender. Built almost entirely on whispery guitar licks and Matsson’s screechy vocals was a complicated web of melodies and deeply personal lyrics. The Wild Hunt is a triumph not because it polishes everything that made Shallow Grave great but because of the mood it sets. From “You’re Going Back” to “Trouble Will Be Gone” to, most noticeably, “King of Spain,” The Wild Hunt is an unbridled expression of joy, made all the more powerful by its sparse instrumentation and Matsson’s cheerfully abrasive vocals.


Jonsi – Go

XL Recordings

Released: April 6

What I love about Go is it’s like Jonsi took all those nine-minute-plus Hopelandic epics and compressed them into the perfect four-minute pop song. Like Jonsi himself, everything about Go screams outsized; from Nico Muhly’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production to the hooks, which scream rainbows and unicorns and sweet, sweet honey. But it’s Jonsi and his angelic voice that really holds everything together, connecting on an almost primal level as its own instrument of unadulterated happiness. Go is a transparent record in its gaiety, with no hidden meanings or any subtext beyond a celebration of life. That’s what makes it great.


Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

4AD Records

Released: September 28

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halcyon Digest was just how warm everything sounded. Whereas Bradford Cox and company’s earlier work tended to be unwieldy messes of noise thrown loosely under the shoegaze label, Halcyon Digest continued what 2008’s Microcastle begun: transforming Deerhunter into a full-fledged rock band, feet firmly planted in pop territory and beckoning us to just relax and enjoy. When I first heard “Revival” I was astonished at just how straightforward everything was, how easy it was to connect to a band I previously had regarded as somewhat cold. But things aren’t just direct; there’s a depth to these songs that, coming from Cox, is not much of a surprise, but makes Halcyon Digest something more than just a really good rock album.

Songs like the self-destructing “Desire Lines” and the gorgeous dream of “Helicopter” seem like the new classic rock, all substance and style without a tipping of the scales one way or the other. “Coronado” is the best Strokes song since Is This It. “He Would Have Laughed” might be the most tragic song of the year, but it’s spindly buildup and cathartic ending seem positively joyful. Halcyon Digest is a record that seems destined to stand the test of time, constructed as it is out of the timeless building blocks of music: guitar, bass, vocals and drums, all done so effortlessly that it’s hard to believe Deerhunter have been doing this for years. In a way, of course, they have, but never so refined, so at ease. For Cox, someone who’s constantly fidgeting around with demos and side projects, hearing him buckle down and produce a whole album’s worth of immediately arresting music is a relief. Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter’s most deft accomplishment yet, and they’ve done it not with bells or whistles or 20-minute-plus compositions but by writing perfect rock ‘n roll, pure and simple.

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

By , August 19, 2010 8:00 am

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

Barsuk 2010

Rating: 8/10

I love it when bands surprise me. For someone who thought Ra Ra Riot were like a lesser Vampire Weekend with a string section after 2008’s so-so The Rhumb Line, I was ready to push through The Orchard and let it down gently. Then I listened to it, and lo and behold, a band I had written off ends up backhanding me across the face with one of the better albums I’ve heard all year. Previous fans of the band will no doubt be delighted to hear that singer Wes Miles still sounds like Ezra Koenig, if a little more prone to falsetto, and that the band’s bouncy brand of pop-rock is still very much in evidence (just check out that ADD bass line on uber-catchy single “Boy”). But whereas The Rhumb Line was all meaty melodies and festival-ready sing-a-longs, The Orchard feels like a proper album of baroque pop – the songwriting is noticeably stronger, the band takes their time around the tunes rather than jumping headfirst into hooks, and the lovely strings of violinist Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn seem far more integrated into the affairs here rather than the gimmick they at times appeared to be on their debut.

It’s a record that knows that the best way to start an album is not a rookie move like throwing out your best song or first single, but to kick things off with a track that announces a new, determined direction instead. “The Orchard” is just that song, floating along ominous string chords and a pensive bass line without a hint of drums or guitar. The focus is purely on Miles, who sounds like a markedly more assured vocalist throughout the record and never as clearly as he does on “The Orchard.” The strings at the forefront is something repeated throughout the album, from the way they add a melancholy note to the otherwise upbeat “Boy” to the way they arch and dip across melodies, putting their indelible stamp on songs like “Do You Remember” and “Kansai.” The fact that Zeller and Lawn are the centerpiece of songs rather than a touch of color here or a flourish there makes The Orchard everything The Rhumb Line hinted at but never accomplished: the sound of a complete and full band, utilizing an array of sound and talents in a more organic way than many of their peers.

Not to say that the rest of the band suffers in comparison. Drummer Gabriel Duquette is the unsung hero here, laying down a number of intricate beats that always propel things forward but never overwhelm. Like the National’s Bryan Devendorf or Bloc Party’s Matt Tong, Duquette has some impressive chops (check out his subtle work on “Massachusetts”), but uses them more to build a rigid rhythmic framework than show off. Everyone contributes, whether it’s consistently fantastic rhythm work, airtight melodies and subtler hooks, or Miles letting Lawn on the mic for the excellently Fleetwood Mac-ish “You And I Know.” There are a few missteps; seriously cheesy synths midway through “Foolish” mar some perfectly good dream-pop, and the sluggish “Keep It Quiet” ends the album with a whimper rather than a bang. But perhaps that’s to be expected – The Orchard is nothing if not a sharp left turn from the cheery, thumping pop of their debut, and ending it on its most plaintive note is sort of fitting. It’s also everything I wanted from a sophomore effort: sophisticated, confident, surprisingly layered, and endlessly entertaining. It’s always exciting when a band seems to get it and come into their own as a group – with The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot have finally created a distinctive identity all their own.

Ra Ra Riot – “You and I Know”

Ra Ra Riot's debut full-length, The Rhumb Line, was released in the summer of 2008, and it brought with it some beautiful and sparkly ruminations on the fragile things in life (namely life, death and love), much critical praise, and the kind of success that's measured not just by sales (although 65k US album scans and 130k US track downloads is nothing to sneeze at these days for a brand-new indie artist) but by appearances on Letterman, Ferguson, and
Conan, plus performances at Lollapalooza, All Points West, and the Sasquatch festival.
After spending much of the summer and fall of 2009 alternately touring the US with Death Cab for Cutie, headlining their own packed shows, and retreating to a country property in upstate New York to write and record, the band announced this summerâ TMs upcoming arrival of their new album The Orchard on the eve of a 2010 appearance at the prestigious Coachella festival.
Anticipation is feverish for new music, and the new album is an incredibly self-assured step for the band, delivering both hook-laden pop jams like first single "Boy" and the new-but-familiar-to-live-audiences "Too Dramatic" and ruminative slow-burns like the Anton Chekov/Kate Bush-inspired "The Orchard" and album-closer "Keep It Quiet."
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Ra Ra Riot – Boy/Kansai

By , August 17, 2010 8:00 am

I didn’t even know Ra Ra Riot were releasing a new album until last week, but The Orchard, which drops next Tuesday, has pretty much all I’ve been listening to the past week. It’s a more cerebral affair than their Vampire Weekend-esque debut, pushing those fine ladies rocking the strings to the front of the mix and generally making some pretty well-crafted, thought-out tunes. “Boy” was released online a couple of weeks ago and is a pretty fantastic, upbeat single, but “Kansai” is a more apt indicator of what the band was going for. Of course, both are awesome.



Discovery – LP

By , July 14, 2009 12:00 pm

Discovery – LP

Beggars XL 2009

Rating: 3/10

Hipster darlings and fellow New Yorkers Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot have made their names performing brainy, worldly rock music that, for all its calculated charm and schoolboy shtick, never came off as overly arty, or, worse, pretentious. Honest, thoughtful, impeccably catchy – many an overwrought blogger has written more than I need to relate here. Just don’t try applying anything you’ve learned from those records to their newest bastard child, Discovery.

Featuring Wes Miles and Rostam Batmanglij, from Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, respectively, Discovery and its debut release LP is a vanity side project of the highest degree. A “fun-loving” record that embraces the cheesier aspects of modern pop music, it’s hard to tell whether Batmanglij and Miles are being ironic or painfully earnest. Not to say modern pop is inherently rotten; rather, it’s the duo’s uninspired production, lackluster songwriting, and persistently annoying use of Auto-Tune that condemn LP to the “what-were-they-thinking?!” realm.

It all starts off rather promisingly with “Orange Shirt,” a sparse R&B drumbeat and streaks of neon-colored synths framing some Vampire Weekend-esque vocals. “Osaka Loop Line” is even better, an engaging, down-tempo piece that builds off one of the record’s better hooks into a sublimely pleasing chorus. Unfortunately, around the 2:46 mark a meandering breakdown inexplicably turns into the equivalent of an electronica trash compactor. Take the original Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, toss it into a blender, and then gargle the results and you have what the backing track sounds like by the song’s conclusion.

Indeed, as the album continues, it’s the duo’s ill-advised production choices that continually turn agreeable synth-pop into ego-fueled sludge. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” features an absurdly annoying guest vocal by Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian that reminded me of children playing with the pitch control on their Casios, while one might be forgiven for thinking that “Swing Tree” was actually recorded with toy synthesizers. Then again, no amount of cheaply-recorded bloops and bleeps can redeem run-of-the-mill lyrics like “when I saw you at the discothèque / send my vibe out to you” or “it’s hard to stay cool / when you smile at me.”

The welcome arrival of Ezra Koenig on vocals makes the thumping fuzz of “Carby” a highlight, but the good tunes on LP are few and far between. By the time you’ve reached the Auto-Tuned-to-death deconstruction of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” it’s difficult to tell whether this is all an elaborate joke by Miles and Batmanglij. Taking a stab at pop music is all well and good, but when you half-ass the production and make songs about as aesthetically interesting as a pastel paint-by-numbers, don’t expect to be taken seriously.

Perhaps LP is really an ingenious satire on the state of mainstream pop music. Perhaps the dudes from Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot are secretly having a laugh at the expense of Top 40 America. Then again, maybe Discovery is just what happens when people get a taste of success and decide to unload all the products of their misspent youth on a public that doesn’t know better. Not cool, guys. Not cool at all.

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