Earlier this week, we reviewed Rah Rah Riot's transition into the realm of synth-pop through their latest full-length, Beta Love. To get a better understanding of why this metamorphosis occurred, one must study what's in the belly of the beast (so we've learned from Jaws). But in all seriousness, the band's musical diet surely had an impact on their recent divergence. As an investigation, we caught up with Ra Ra Riot's bassist, Mathieu Santos, who put together a mixtape of the top 10 songs circling the bandmember's playlists. And according to this list, our hypothesis is confirmed...
Listen to the mixtape and read Mathieu's stories behind each song below.
1. "Afria Talks to You" - Delicate Steve Milo, our guitarist, introduced me to Steve's music around the time his amazing debut album, Wondervisions, was released. As fate would have it, we were lucky enough to end up touring with him and his incredible band last fall. Watching them play every night was an absolute treat - every set was visceral, inspiring, and uplifting. Last year, Steve released his second record (called Positive Force), on which his playing is somehow even more soulful and lyrical. "Afria Talks To You" is my favorite example.
2. "Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)" - Devo We're all big Devo fans, and that includes their most recent album, 2010's Something For Everybody. "Don't Shoot" has been their live opener for the past few years, and it's perfect - like a lot of classic Devo, it cooks, it's got hooks and a sense of humor, and the whole thing sits just perfectly over the top. And the drums! Josh Freese is a master, and we were beyond thrilled to be able to work with him on our new record.
3. "Express Yourself" (featuring Nicky da B) - Diplo Dennis Herring, our producer, lives and works in Mississippi, and he made sure to introduce us to plenty of Southern culture while we were in his Oxford studio. Chief among said culture was fried catfish and bounce music. This collaboration between Diplo and Nicky da B was on repeat for weeks. It engulfs you!
4. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" - Michael Jackson This is just one of those songs to which no one will ever be able to resist air-drumming, singing, dancing, and smiling. It's perfect and pure and timeless, and it doesn't matter how many times you've heard it. It's a masterpiece.
5. "Computer World" - Kraftwerk We've always been big Kraftwerk fans, but Dennis really helped us embrace it while making our album. He wasn't exaggerating when he distilled the entirety of 20th Century pop music down to just two groups: one was called The Beatles, and the other was Kraftwerk. Their music is essentially the point of contact between humans and machines (at least within the realm of music), and those first tender and awkward moments, brimming with possibility, are forever manifested therein.
6. "Elevator Boy" - Laid Back Laid Back are a couple of Danish guys who make music that is in equal measures catchy, simple, and goofy. And those are three of the most important - and somehow most elusive - qualities of good pop music. "Elevator Boy" is a prime example from their first album, 1983's Keep Smiling.
7. "Good Day Today" - David Lynch This is another song that I associate with the making of our record. It's a good example of contemporary music that succeeds in reconciling both experimentation with accessibility and technology with personality. The production of the song is just incredible - everything is balanced and the textures are wonderful.
8. "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" - Robert Palmer Robert Palmer's huge vocal range was matched only by the scope of his musical styles - supergroups and arena rock one moment, quirky synth-based world music explorations the next. "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On" perhaps falls somewhere in between - it's a fun, smoky, and decidedly darker take on Charelle's quintessentially 80s romp, with some huge live drums and sparse synths.
9. "Bang The Drum All Day" - Todd Rundgren Here's another song that nails the catchy-simple-goofy trifecta.
10. "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us" - Sparks Sparks are absolutely fearless - musically, lyrically, image-wise, however you look at it. Perennially out of step with the masses yet true to their form, Sparks has always made interesting, intelligent music. "This Town" is perhaps my favorite.