Posts tagged: the Orchard

Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

By , January 26, 2013 12:00 pm

beta-love

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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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.

“Boy”

“Kansai”

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