Album Review: Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line

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Some time ago, I was captured by the punchy orchestral pop sounds of Ra Ra Riot. It was your classic example of an unanticipated discovery of treasure. Going into the day, I neither knew of, nor expected much from the five-piece outfit when I walked in Washington, D.C.’s Rock ‘n Roll hotel on a hot summer day last August. I was there to see Tokyo Police Club, at the time, the must see act for any indie junkie, and considered anything else as a bonus. But as the story goes, it was Ra Ra Riot who stole the show that night, upstaging the Pitchfork acclaimed, Canadian natives and their Lesson in Crime, with 40 minutes of spectacular, pop brilliance. They were talented, passionate, and hell, even good looking. Ra Ra Riot offered the total package – and to think, at the time, they only had an EP under their belt.

12 months later, Ra Ra Riot finds itself where Tokyo Police Club was last summer, where Vampire Weekend was during the winter. After a successful headlining tour and new record contract, the five former Syracuse University students are this summer’s indie darlings, now ready to unveil their full-length debut, The Rhumb Line, for all to enjoy. Only, as standard as the story may be, Ra Ra Riot is far from your trademark “next best thing.”

Looking at the tracklist, it appears Ra Ra Riot played it safe, mixing all five songs from its debut EP with five brand new ones. But turn on The Rhumb Line, and it quickly becomes evident that even the familiar favorites – “Ghosts Under Rocks”, “Each Year” and “Dying is Fine” are as new as well, the new tracks. With new mixes and mastered sounds, Ra Ra Riot takes the tired and true method of hyped, up-and-comers including popular, yet dated songs to new releases to ensure acceptability – and give it a punch, in the end, allowing The Rhumb Line to not only offer an entirely new sound, but something very much unique.

Presentation aside, the record sees Ra Ra Riot in characteristic glory. Blending over infectious electricity with the colorfulness of an orchestra sound, the outfit recreates the passion of its live show and beauty of the EP in an album that is as captivating and gripping as it rich in instrumentation. To sum it up, take the sounds of Arcade Fire, the energy of LCD Soundsystem, and playful innocence of Vampire Weekend, add a little tequila for a kick, and you have The Rhumb Line.

“Ghosts Under Rocks” represents musical excellence, allowing the stunning sounds of Rebecca Zeller’s violin and Alexandra Lawn’s cello to assert themselves in an overwhelming, but smart style. “St. Peter’s Day Festival” sees the band taking advantage of its rock elements, while the sentimental, “Dying in Fine” displays the depth and sincerity of Wesley Miles’ lyrics. The Rhumb Line enables each and every element to shine brilliantly, blending passion and earnestness with phenomenal skill.

But in the end, it’s the album’s bittersweet tranquility that wins you over. With an underlying sense of heartbreak, due to the tragic passing of the band’s original drummer just a year ago, represented in both the record’s gripping lyrics and last-day-on-earth-like attitude, Ra Ra Riot has created a work that is not only brilliant in musicianship, but down right moving. As the final chords of “Run My Mouth” echo aloud, a journey of soul searching and emotional examination has come to an end, leaving behind one of the more real and honest compositions in some time.

Check Out:
“Dying is Fine”

The Rhumb Line is now available via Barsuk Records