Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love

Kevin O'Donnell

By Kevin O'Donnell

on 01.22.13 in Reviews

When Ra Ra Riot broke out with their debut album The Rhumb Line in 2008, they fashioned themselves as a brainy, bright-eyed chamber-pop group, freshly armed with university B.A.s and carefully curated record collections featuring heroes like Talking Heads and Kate Bush.

An overhaul from sweet, string-soaked rock to electronic-pop explorations

My, have things changed. After releasing 2010′s somewhat underwhelming Chris Walla-produced The Orchard, the group is down to a quintet (cellist Alexandra Lawn has left) and they’ve overhauled their sound from sweet, string-soaked rock into electronic-pop explorations on Beta Love.

The sonic shift makes sense enough — singer Wes Miles collaborated with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij for the bedroom synthpop project Discovery in 2009 — but not all of it works. The title track relies too heavily synth while “Is It Too Much” ruins Miles’s beautiful, pinched falsetto with vocodor-type effects. And bassist Matthieu Santos — who’s limber lines on The Rhumb Line gave their tunes an undeniably kinetic bounce — also seems too buried in the mix throughout.

But Ra Ra Riot’s ability to adapt to nano-second-shifting tastes in indie is admirable, and there are moments where their fusion of strings-and-things with ones-and-zeroes studio trickery hit the bullseye. “That Much,” for instance, with its jazz-funk pulse and absolutely bonkers guitar solo, comes on like the most sincere Steely Dan song ever — and serves as a nice reminder that Ra Ra Riot are still a group worth rooting for.