Upon beginning to stream Ra Ra Riot’s latest release, “Beta Love,” the sound bursting from my speakers came as a shock. For one, that I can even describe the sound as “bursting” is completely new.
Ra Ra Riot’s music has always exuded a smooth, calculated quality with its string-heavy rhythms and Wes Miles’ honest voice cutting straight through to grab hold of the listener’s heart.
With Tuesday’s release, the band lets loose and seems to shift into a more indie-dance, synth-pop groove than anything it has produced in the past. Lovers of 2008’s “The Rhumb Line” and 2010’s “The Orchard” will surely do a double-take upon hearing this new sound.
The shift is to be expected, however, as the band recently lost its cellist, Alexandra Lawn. Instead of replacing her with another string player, it seems the band has gone the route of incorporating bits from a synthesizer to fill the void Lawn left.
Lyrically, the band remains as talented as ever. “When I Dream” pins the band closer to its original sound than any other track on “Beta Love,” and it is the undeniable high point. “I ride the dogs on the lake, under the lights / A frozen breeze / Wanna be there, could’ve been more / Suddenly thought, don’t change, don’t change,” Miles sings, his voice weaving beautifully between simple drum beats reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” and slight flurries of the synthesizer.
That new synthesizer is a bit overwhelming on title track “Beta Love,” but Miles’ vocals make the track worth at least one listen. A few songs past the title track, “For Once” comes in with a punch quickly followed by Miles’ voice, escalating in and out of a falsetto tone. The track is, alongside “When I Dream,” one of the album’s absolute best, bringing back a taste of Ra Ra Riot’s lovely past life.
Overall the album is something to get used to, but not necessarily in a bad way. Some bands can pull off transitions between sounds, and it appears Ra Ra Riot is one of them, despite a few synthesizer-heavy missteps. Old fans would be wise to give the album a chance.