Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line (2008)

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line (2008)

Ra Ra Riot have a name that will make people either roll their eyes in boredom for every indie name that has gone before it or make people tilt their head in interest. Can a band name really instigate a reaction to their sound before hearing one note of the album? If I told you that some band called Pearl Jam or The Mars Volta existed you'd come away with some sort of reaction too, but a band's name can sum up their sound many times. Either of these two camps that give the album a chance will probably come away with the same reaction regardless, indie rock being indie rock doing something indie.

That last line technically made no sense (my sophomore English teacher would have torn me a new one), but it actually does if one has listened to Ra Ra Riot's "The Rhumb Line." This is an album full of so much sound and grandiose movements that it wants to be so epic and exciting in that way that only the general genre of indie rock is and catch them all in some beautiful cavalcade of sound. Some of the songs work with this as the driving force behind most of them to some degree, but as an album the concept fails as each song tries to sound more daring and louder than the previous. I'm not trying to imply some old-man kind of "turn that music down" reaction. This deals mainly with lead singer Wes Miles tendency to over sing almost every song on the album in a Keane-esque way.

That's just the tipping point. Everything on the album seems overdone. The mixing, the lyrics, instruments, from the manipulative string section that accompanies most of the album to the useless piano that just repeats melody after melody. After just listened to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's debut album, I would listen to each track and be shocked that the song was already over, enjoying it so much. With Ra Ra Riot it was usually the opposite, each song overstaying its welcome and lasting so much longer than my iPod claimed it to be.

The reason why this album fails so much isn't because it sounds bad (even though it does). It's because the album wants to manipulate the listener so much into how he/she should feel during each part that it becomes boring. Similar to the most melodramatic movie that Lifetime will put out this year, each song is so predictable in not just terms of notes and instruments (here's where the strings come in, and now a solo part), but it hardly seems shocking when some of the trite lyrics roll around. Some sample lyrics: "If you were here/Winter wouldn't pass quite so slow" ("Winter '05"), "When I look in your eyes/What am I supposed to do?" ("Too Too Too Fast"), or one of the worst of the bunch, "When I look into your eyes/I tend to lose my thoughts" ("Can You Tell"). On two of those songs alone he talks about looking into eyes. Two of the songs?!?!

The one song on here that really stands out is one of the singles "Dying Is Fine." Only this song on the entirety of the album really works to the benefits of the band's style. The overboard of instruments and emotions that is found on most of the songs actually work to the benefit of the constraints, taking something as lame as the words "Dying Is Fine" but making it actually sound sad and meaningful. By no means are Ra Ra Riot untalented and bad musicians. Quite the contrary. The music is well-performed and there is a good band here somewhere underneath all of the manipulation and predictability that is just dying to come out. The lyrics get corny in ways that are bad and good some times, but with some work and toning down this could be a band to watch. Until then...

Standout Track: "Dying Is Fine."
Overall Rating: 4.0


* Ra Ra Riot's rise to fame is quite impressive. After 6 months of working they already got notice from Spin Magazine and were opening for the likes of Art Brut, Editors and Tokyo Police Club.

* The band's original drummer, John Ryan Pike, went missing June 2, 2007. The following day his body was found in Buzzard's Bay in Fairhaven, believed to have drowned.

* Single "Drying Is Fine" was inspired by the E.E. Cummings poem "Dying Is Fine)But Death."

* "Suspended in Gafa" is a Kate Bush cover.

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