For the first time, Syracuse band Ra Ra Riot has finally released an album that pairs well with their name. Unlike their two previous chamber pop albums that centered around heavy strings, Beta Love features more driving bass and popping synth, making it fully cheerful and rebellious. Imagine fist pumping and skipping down the sidewalk at the same time.
There's a reason for that.
If you're a Ra Ra Riot fan, don't freak out, but cellist Alexandra Lawn is no longer with the band and doesn't appear on their new album Beta Love. The result is not a bad thing.
This time around, Ra Ra Riot has dropped the dominant strings in favor of stronger synth and, at times, a more aggressive rock sound. Lead singer Wes Miles' pop-tenor voice remains as well as Rebecca Zeller's violin—albeit with a reduced presence. While earlier Ra Ra Riot music could easily be classified as indie, Beta Love has more than inched closer to mainstream pop—it's now safe to call it that. And that makes for one fun album.
The record's opening track, "Dance With Me," is a super-spry pop-rock song and definitely plays off of "Boy," the first single from their last album, The Orchard. But that's pretty much where the similarities between the two albums end.
After the first track, Beta Love stays put rather than returning to the chamber sound heard on The Orchard. The following songs, "Binary Love" and the album's title track, nearly abandon Zeller's violin for hand claps and '90s pop guitar. And though the strings peek in a bit for "Binary Love," there's so much else going on, they're lost in the blur of the rapid-fire dance song.
Toward the end of the album, Ra Ra Riot dips a toe in electro-R&B with "When I Dream" before diving in head first with "Wilderness." Beta Love wraps up with "I Shut Off," an '80s-style song where strings make a final appearance, perhaps to remind the listener that the band hasn't changed too much.
And while some may think that they have, Beta Love is still a wonderfully diverse album with awesome danceable moments. One that shows the kind of growth people should see in a band they love.
The Rhumb Line (2008)
This was Ra Ra Riot's first major-label release and their best. Songs like "Too Fast" and "Ghost Under Rocks" marked Ra Ra Riot as a band that could be both fun and poetic.
A collaboration between Ra Ra Riot front man Wes Miles and Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij recording as Discovery, LP was something very different, even for 2009. An experimental synth-filled R&B album, LP featured original tracks as well as perhaps the best cover ever of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."