Ra Ra Riot is aiming for an epic expansion of soundscapes, at the expense of anything immediately reminiscent or familiar regarding the band's early work. What follows is an album full of confusing beauty and hollow hooks, lost in a maze of string riffs and looped arpeggios. Lead singer Wes Miles sounds more nuanced than ever before, and his voice is totally analogous to the over efforts of the band. The Orchard is an attempt to create a distinct style for the band, separating them from their already very stylized contemporaries. However, it feels like the effort backfires... The Orchard is highly static and lacks the certain climax/lull dynamic that usually makes specific moments memorable.
A few missteps here and there would almost be welcome; the instruments all seem to have a pristine layer of Teflon protecting them from sticking out too much. "Too Dramatic", which admittedly has a sticky chorus and a ton of potential, seems a few clicks too fast (based on live treatments of the song), and it blows by before any of it can be soaked in. In contrast, the surrounding cuts, especially opener "The Orchard", wanders in circles. "Boy" comes close to making a scene but isn't nearly enough given the context. I get that this is supposed to be soft-rock, but if you're going to make a documentary about the reclusive creation of your record, it should probably sound a little more dynamically emotional.
At the end of the day, I still like this band and I expect much more from them in the future. They are still one of my favorite bands to emerge as a name-to-know from 2008, and they remain much more likable than the insufferable popped collar success story of the Vampires. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with polished when I expected something a little more raw and unwieldy.-joe Puglisi
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