Saturday, August 23, 2008

Album Review: Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line

Ra Ra Riot is an indie rock group hailing from Syracuse, New York. One of it's most distinguishing features are its use of string instruments by cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller. The stringed instruments help the band create a unique orchestral sound that is mixed with a dash of guitar, a sometimes quiet and sometimes thumping bass, quick drums and relaxed vocals.

The band has faced it fair share of challenges. Shortly after releasing their self-titled EP drummer John Ryan Pike passed away. The band committed to continue and on August 19th they released their first LP. Much of the album was co-written by Pike, with 4 of the songs on the LP being from the EP completed during his lifetime. Band members and family members have teamed together to honor Pike's memory by setting up a memorial fund and playing benefit shows to raise money with other musicians such as Vampire Weekend. Aside from the music I was very touched by reading the experiences and descriptions of Pike from band members and friends. It is very evident that he impacted many lives.

The mission of the John Ryan Pike Memorial Fund is also noteworthy. The objectives are very comprehensive but the overall goal is to provide young musicians (especially those who go to schools that have cut music programs due to downsizing) the opportunity to explore their music talents as well receive information and experience if necessary on other music professions. One goal is to setup the John Ryan Pike Lending Library of Musical Instruments that will allow youth access to instruments they normally would not for financial reasons.

The opening track "Ghost Under Rocks" captures the attention of the listener with a thumping bass, followed by a very sweet drumline (almost trip hop in nature) and a haunting chorus of vocals. This setup is then interrupted by the lead singer Wesley Miles, whose raspy almost reggae-like voice contrasts greatly with the stringed instruments.

The next track "Each Year" has an introduction that sounds like a song from The Cure's "Disintegration" and Miles adds to the late 80s/early 90s feel with his vocals. "Winter '05" sounds like a B-side to The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour."

Each song has a different flavor and is worthy of its own analysis. Suffice it to say, Ra Ra Riot makes the most out of the 10 tracks showing many sides of the band's creative genius.

I really dig this album. For the instrumentation they get an A+. Musically you could make comparisons to Vampire Weekend but Ra Ra Riot is much better and their sound is more mature. Overall Miles' vocals sound similar to Jim James of My Morning Jacket and his performance is by far greater than that of James on Jacket's latest release "Evil Urges."

They are coming to my town in October and I will be there!


Allan said...

I usually don't put too much stock in vocals personally. Not something I take seriously as instrumentation. His voice is far from bad though...

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