Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
Record Label: Barsuk Records
Release Date: August 19, 2008
I have a confession to make. Almost everyone I have ever had a conversation with through AP knows that obscure, angular indie rock and basically everything outside of the traditional mainstream serves as the cornerstone of my musical library. However, that being said, nothing really grabs my attention more than a well crafted indie pop song or album, and no such record has grabbed me as fully as The Rhumb Line, the debut full-length effort from fellow Syracuse natives Ra Ra Riot. Living in relatively small suburbs in Pennsylvania and Maryland that were quite distanced from any major scene, with Philadelphia and Baltimore being a little over a half an hour away, there have not been many local bands who went on to make a big splash in the music scene. Ra Ra Riot changed all of that since I have had the privilege of watching the band start with little more than a whole lot of ambition and a promising six song EP and transform into a band that is on the tips of the tongues of almost everyone who follows the indie scene. Since their January formation, the band has racked up accolade after accolade including being dubbed as one of the top bands at the 2006 CMJ music conference and 2007 SXSW by NME and have received glowing praise from NPR’s “All Songs Considered”, Spin, and Rolling Stone to name a few. Although the band has benefited from the sort of blog-driven success their friends and peers in Vampire Weekend have, they also have built a substantial word of mouth buzz through a relentless touring schedule with a live show that is sure to impress and may have led to the label attention the band received before recently announcing their signing with Barsuk Records.
Imagine having a string section - whether it be a full blown orchestra or even, say, a violin and a cello - follow you around and occasionally provide the backdrop to some of the moments in your life. Now even already great moments become larger than life or a little more significant because of the slight air of sophistication these instruments tend to exude. That is the quality that cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller add to Ra Ra Riot. While the bands infectious brand of indie pop could stand on its own if stripped of these instruments, the performances of Zeller and Lawn add an extra level of character to the songs on the album and provide a special sound that helps Ra Ra Riot stand apart from their contemporaries, especially on the mournful “Winter ‘05”.
“Too Too Too Fast” is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album, though it takes a slightly different approach from the album. Driven by warm, inviting synth, Wes Miles’ smooth vocals, and driving percussion, “Too Too Too Fast” is a bubbly pop song that is almost guaranteed to make you dance. Not one to waste energy with awkward style shifts, Ra Ra Riot follow up the track with the equally upbeat “Oh, La”, which opts for a more subtle and bouncy rhythm than the hyperactive energy of its predecessor. Although the band has mostly built its fan base on the strength of its more musically upbeat tracks, The Rhumb Line finds the band slightly stretching its creative muscles. “St. Peter’s Day Festival” bears similarities to the band’s friends in Vampire Weekend, but is one of the band’s more experimental tracks. “Winter ‘05” is mostly driven by the string talents of Lawn and Zeller serving as a moving backdrop for vocalist Wes Miles’ soul bearing vocals. The band’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Suspended In Gaffa” allows them to display their ability to apply a little bit of grandiosity and theatrics to their sound and unsurprisingly they pull it off with ease.
The Rhumb Line is an album in the traditional sense in that it is not focused around one single or a even a few singles, it is comprised of many well crafted tracks that each play a particular role and can be listened to straight through multiple times without hitting a lull. For those who may have already listened to The Rhumb Line and written it off, I suggest taking a few more listens. The melodies on the album are easily distinguishable but they are more of a subtle variety so while the album may not hit you initially, after multiple listens the songs work their way into your subconscious and soon you will find yourself singing the songs without even realizing it. The Rhumb Line has quickly made its case for end of the year list material and Ra Ra Riot are without a doubt one of the best emerging artists of 2008. I cannot wait to hear how this band matures in the future, and they have certainly made me anticipate their future works with their astonishing first album.