, the third studio album from Syracuse-based Ra Ra Riot, is a lighthearted collection of manic synth pop songs centered around the vague idea of modern love. With most tracks clocking in at three minutes or less in a genre with which we're well-acquainted, it's clearly not an album of epic proportions or groundbreaking concepts, but the disco falsetto of Wes Miles paired with the poptastic strings of Rebecca Zeller gives us a few dance gems.
"Dance With Me" is a strong opener for their new sound, mixing some wiggly bass, light harmonies, and thumping drums. Their signature strings carry along the sugar-coated pop with the lyrics, "Come and dance with me, bittersweet fool/I wanna be your toy." It's a bubbly party jam along the lines of Cut Copy or MGMT, with front-and-center vocals and a chorus that seriously grows on you. The frenetic "Binary Mind" recalls Of Montreal's "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse," exploring the confusing biology of one's own mind and the loneliness it can bring. "This body that I own/I can't tell you what it's for," communicates Miles' alienation, and perhaps the two-note melody of the verse is indicative of a "binary mind." Like "Beta Love," it's a nod to the kind of geeky love where sonnets and hand-holding don't come naturally, and the hectic guitars, synthesized handclaps, and just a sprinkling of strings transform the anxiety into a danceable track.
"Beta Love" is probably the catchiest song on the eponymous album. "I might be a prototype/But we're both real inside," sings Miles with the liberal help of autotune and echoey synth. The rhythm goes from thumping to swinging for the chorus, and saccharine strings join in after the first verse, giving it a sparkling texture and Mika-like polish. "In this city of robot hearts/Ours were made to be" is a glimpse of this album's strangely anachronistic zeitgeist of kids meeting at the Mac store and alienated by their plug-in existence, which surprisingly remains comforting to hear.
The standout sonic treats on the second half of the record are "When I Dream" and "I Shut Off." On "When I Dream," Miles' voice finally soars to its full potential and recalls the subtler sound of Orchard
as he sings "And when I dream/It's not of you." The song is mournful and plaintive, and the band seems to reach the tension and tenderness they might have been aiming for on "Is It Too Much." The album closer, "I Shut Off," sounds more balanced and full than their other attempts at pure dance music as they sing, "Who wants a human love? A death trap? A suicide drug? I do." Lush strings, a drumrolling beat, and joyous harmonies bring the album to a satisfying close that makes us wish the slightly forgettable in-between songs were as well-thought-out as "I Shut Off."
Ra Ra Riot has said that with Beta Love
, they wanted to depart from the "orchestral pop" genre that first rocketed them to success, and the loss of cellist Alexandra Lawn made this reinvention practically necessary. The strong points on this album are the subtlest, and we're looking forward to the development of Ra Ra Riot's synth-pop experimentation.
Check out this intimate live performance of "I Shut Off":
is out now on Barsuk