Its been an interesting process for me discovering Ra Ra Riot. I did this entirely on my own -- none of my friends knew of them and I didn't even hear about them on radio or Internet or TV. Nope, I first came to Ra Ra Riot via a side project -- appropriately titled Discovery -- which was playing in the background in a restaurant in ye olden days before the Shazam music discovery app existed. It was a very old school process for me: I hear a song during brunch and it hooks me to the point where I ask the waitress to seek out the name of the tune. It was being played via someone's iPod and was by a band called Discovery.
After brunch, I scurried over to Amoeba Records where indeed I found said album called Discovery on CD and vinyl. I bought the vinyl which i really liked start to finish. Chopped up, modern hip-hop-ish sampling-type glitchy-production mixed with angelic vocals and bubblegum pop tendencies. Grind-y dirty noises pitted against the saccharine sweet.
It works for me...
As it turns out, Discovery was a side project from the lead singer of a band -- hailing from my college town of Syracuse, N.Y. -- called Ra Ra Riot and the keyboardist of NYC band Vampire Weekend. Within days I picked up some Ra Ra Riot CDs which I enjoyed, but they weren't quite as immediately engaging as Discovery. Happily, shortly thereafter a new Ra Ra Riot album emerged which was exactly what I was hoping for : a blending of Discovery's digital chop-shop production aesthetics with the uber-melodic Ra Ra Riot pop sound.
Called Beta Love, it was one of my favorite albums that year (2013) and I even reviewed that album here on Audiophilereview.com.
In the interim I've picked up some fun Ra Ra Riot singles including neat rocking covers of songs by Steve Winwood and U2 (both Record Store Day limited edition 45s as well as a neat companion 10-inch EP featuring demos from Beta Love). But I've been waiting patiently for another new album, especially after seeing them perform at The Fillmore Auditorium here in San Francisco; I was very happy with their late-period-ELO-synthpop-meets-post-punk-Partridge-Family live presentation.
I mean that in the best possible way -- they were performing all that nifty glitchy production stuff live including strings and harmonies. It was great.
Fast forward to the here and now and I'm happy to report that the NEW Ra Ra Riot album has arrived -- called Need Your Light -- and it continues down that pop path with fun, hook filled songs. Beyond liking a bunch of the songs immediately, the first thing I noticed about Need Your Light was a production tactic that was markedly different from the prior album. While the new album does have a lot of that same borderline sunshine pop vibe as Beta Love, it does so without relying on studio production (dare I say, "gimmickry") to make it happen.
So, as I witnessed at The Fillmore, this record features the sound of a band playing the songs -- and those types of arrangements -- as, well... a band. Pure and simple. Yet, it somehow still has some of that vibe which made Beta Love so much fun.
Initial pressings of Need Your Light are pressed in nice sea-foam green, quiet and perfectly centered standard weight vinyl. After loading up the free MP3 downloads on my iPhone and taking the album with me on a long driving trip, I know this album is going to become a quick fave for me this year.
Well, I'll start with the fact that there are some really great songs here. Fun things like the bubbly "Absolutely" and the early-U2-esque title track. Each time I play it, another song latches its hooks into me: "Everytime I'm Ready To Hug" and "Foreign Lovers" are latest faves.
These songs are so good I'll even over look probable digital production. Its really not that in your face once you get used to the overall feel of the album, but I have to be honest with you Dear Readers (this is Audiophilereview, after all). Its a modern pop record, but a good one with a big -- almost ambient -- natural drum sound that sounds really great when you pump up the volume. This is great driving music!
So, yeah, check these guys out. Singer Wes Miles has such a fantastic voice and this band really deserves to ascend to a bigger stage.
Will Need Your Light cast Ra Ra Riot into the mainstream limelight?
I certainly hope so...