Producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Wavves,) encouraged Ra Ra Riot to loosen up on their third album, Beta Love. So they swapped instruments. They ditched e.e. Cummings. They consumed A-Ha with their Wheaties. Ra Ra Riot is leaner and meaner just listen to Milo Bonaccis chromatic guitar solo at the end of That Much.
But mostly, Ra Ra Riot is ready to dance. Really dance. The first several tracks (Dance With Me, Binary Love, and Angel, Please) are saccharine and structured. It’s little shocking how deft these indie-souls are at playing the Robyn card. None of the tracks on Beta break four minutes, yet there are clear moments of self-reflexivity that cushion the new direction: I might be a proto-type, but were both real inside, Wes Miles intones on the title track.
In fact, Miles voice is better suited for this new style. The increased production, rife with percolating synths, erratic fizzles and finger snaps, underscores Miles’ vocal control, which was easier to discount within the denser orchestrations of The Rhumb Line. On Beta‘s Is It Too Much, Miles sounds similar to Annie Lennox: bare and steadfast.
But the keeping of Ra Ra Riots signature sound falls on Rebecca Zellers shoulder rest, especially after the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn. As much as the other guys diversify the sound, nothing crystallizes Ra Ra Riot better than Zellers angelic string parts. For this reason, the violin — strong, subtle, or in between is crucial to the success of this Beta experiment. Synth-pop isnt a violinists traditional realm, but Zeller treads the territory with an inventors panache. Her long, lithe scale steals When I Dream and her zesty staccato elevates Angel, Please. The violin is scaled back in comparison to their previous albums. As a result, the songs that suffer on Beta Love are the ones with no strings at all.
Essential Tracks: When I Dream, Angel, Please, and Dance With Me