When the lofty electronica of Beta Love first made its way through the airwaves, the break that was made from Ra Ra Riot’s once indie-baroque dynamic was a deafening one. For all intents and purposes, the album was considered a rough transition; to critics, it was a betrayal of their nearly perfectible reconciliation of orchestral rhythms and indie rock grandiose into highly-accessible tunes, as well as an overtly enthusiastic attempt to reinvent through the hackneyed use of heavy synths.
The album itself was not without some glimmers of hope for fans who lamented the end of Ra Ra Riot’s avant-garde sound. Songs like “Dance with Me” and the eponymous “Beta Love” still held the lofty exuberance of past hits, while simultaneously embracing their newfound electronic sentiments with finesse. But with the arrival of the band’s fourth LP Need Your Light comes an attempted reckoning of critical response to their genre-bending leap, one rooted in the vestiges of a newly polished synth-pop panache. “Water,” the sublime opening track, rolls forward on a buoyant air of cascading percussion, while a faint bubbling of electronica occupies the background. From the opening moments of the album, listeners are entreated to the familiar helium croons of frontman Wes Miles, as well as the light appearance of trickling synth melodies.
Shedding off their cocoon for the second time in six years with that celebratory introduction, the rest of the album unravels quite stupendously into a reassertion of all the things Beta Love attempted to accomplish. Another single, “Absolutely,” appears initially as just another synth-pop ditty–but the song’s swelling crescendo of guitars and soft hum of Rebecca Zeller’s violin, sets it apart entirely. But it is the innate rhythmic percussiveness of Need Your Light that prevents Ra Ra Riot’s second attempt at pop sentiments from being exasperated entirely; from the upbeat cadence of “Foreign Lovers” (which sounds like a soft cut between The Griswolds/Wombats), to to the evasive vocalizations and ambient harmonies of “I Need Your Light,” which explodes in a climax of shuddering synths and rushing-maniacal snares.
“Bad Times” similarly rushes forward on a steady pummeling of percussion drops and hammer-ons, as the warble of strings and buzzes mingle in a steady rise behind Miles’ wails. Then there is the carefully measured euphoria of “Call Me Out”; as one of the album’s definitive highlights, the song is a flurry of addictive guitar riffs and glitzy strings. The stuck in the 80s track “Instant Breakup” is an eruption of elated electronica caught against a soulful patter of drums and cymbals; while the orgiastic “Every Time I’m Ready To Hug” bursts with shimmering synths and fluttering strings, as Miles’ velvet vocals pour out the song’s gushing affections.
Ultimately, Ra Ra Riot has developed a more competent understanding of the relationship between sugary synth-pop melodies and their own expansive experience in mingling the numerous limbs of baroque–the result being an album that manages to successfully breakdown the walls separating both without using either as a crutch. The power of Miles and company’s music has always lied in its gentle exhilaration, that intrinsic ability–and seemingly their sole goal in life–to get people dancing, with little to no effort. With Need Your Light Ra Ra Riot has simply added another facet, one more tool in its arsenal, to achieving that goal.
The album’s deafening escapism mingles precariously, almost tensely, with its lavish synth-pop theatrics; like an 80s dance party about to collapse in on itself from the sheer weight of its attendees unrequited love. But an air of hopefulness shines through, and as Miles howls in that opening chorus about tearing off his clothes and jumping in the water, it so appears Ra Ra Riot has done the same to achieve an element (however illusionary) of rebirth. So it happens that the boys from Syracuse have finally unshackled themselves from the tightly-boxed confines of their past endeavors and have returned to us as lush, delirious, and infinitely more enchanting than ever.
Words: Steven Ward
Ra Ra Riot Tour
2/21 – Charleston, WV – Mountain Stage
3/02 – Albany, NY – The Hollow +^
3/03 – Boston, MA – Paradise +^
3/04 – New York, NY – Webster Hall +^
3/05 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer +^
3/06 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club +^
3/08 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle +^
3/10 – Savannah, GA – Savannah Stopover Festival
3/11 – Atlanta, GA – Aisle 5 +^
3/12 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn +^
3/13 – Nashville, TN – Exit In +^
3/15 – Houston, TX – Walter’s Downtown +^
3/16-18 – Austin, TX- SXSW
3/19 – Fort Worth, TX – The Live Oak ^*
3/21- Phoenix, AZ – Valley Bar ^*
3/22 – San Diego, CA – The Irenic ^*
3/24 – Los Angeles, CA – Teragram Ballroom ^*
3/25 – Santa Barbara, CA – Soho Restaurant & Music Club ^*
3/28 – Santa Ana, CA – The Constellation Room ^*
3/27 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent
3/30 – Seattle, WA – Neumos ^*
3/31 – Vancouver, BC – The Biltmore Cabaret ^*
4/01 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall ^*
4/03 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge ^*
4/04 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theatre ^*
4/06 – Kansas City, MO – The Riot Room ^*
4/07 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club ^*
4/08 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall ^*
4/11 – Columbus, OH – A&R Music Bar ^*
4/12 – Millvale, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre ^*
4/14 – Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace ^*
4/15 – Montreal, QC – Bar Le Ritz ^*
4/16 – Geneva, NY – The Cracker Factory ^
4/30 – Tampa, FL – WMNF’s Tropical Heatwave
6/11 – Cleveland, OH – LaureLive
with Sun Club ^ with PWR BTMM * with And The Kids