The product of Syracuse University returns for its third full-length album, Beta Love, a decidedly more upbeat release than 2010’s The Orchard.
Constantly being accused of being a Vampire Weekend cover band, Ra Ra Riot certainly step outside their comfort zone on this album — with mixed results. The album is remarkably fast-paced and rarely stops to breathe, something that can be jarring upon a first listen.
On Beta Love, RRR’s trademark orchestral rock gets a technological makeover with drum machines, glitchy synths and stripped instrumentation. Wes Miles’s swooping, impossibly high falsetto is prominently featured throughout the album, sometimes ad nauseum.
Beta Love features Miles’s vocals far more prominently than in previous records. Rather than being a tasteful section on a few songs, Miles’s voice consistently operates between the Temper Trap and a dog whistle.
What charmed listeners on 2007’s The Rhumb Line was the mixture of catchy choruses and brooding instrumentation that made RRR stick out from other indie rock acts of the mid-2000s. However, on Beta Love, RRR seems to abandon subtlety in favour of high-tempo, frenetic synth-rock. On tracks like the incredibly catchy “Angel, Please” and the unapologetically pop-oriented “Dance With Me,” RRR communicate a readiness to enter mainstream radio play.
Lyrically, Miles still occasionally revisits familiar themes on tracks such as “When I Dream” and “For Once” and as the album progresses the songs begin to sound akin to what one has come to expect from RRR.
Perhaps what is so striking is just how much fun the album is on almost every track. On the whole, the departure is stark and the product uneven, but hearing RRR diversifying their sound makes for an interesting listen.