Album Review: Ra Ra Riot's The Orchard Is a Little Too Serious For Its Own Good

Artist: Ra Ra Riot

Album: The Orchard

Label: Barsuk

Release date: August 24

Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Stream

Download: "Too Dramatic"

Local show: Bumbershoot on Sunday, September 5

I would love to see Ra Ra Riot dedicate themselves entirely to breezy pop music, the type of stuff their friends Vampire Weekend stick to, simply because that's what they do best. To that effect, I have to go out on a limb and say that what weighs them down is the same thing that makes them unique among other pop bands -- their cello and violin parts. Rebecca Zeller and cellist Alexandra Lawn are both talented musicians; strings can add a lush and elegant feel to a pop song, and at certain points in Ra Ra Riot's music they do, but on the quintet's second album, The Orchard, they too often make the songs heavier than they need to be. The record's mournful title track feels much longer than its three and a half minutes, and the too-serious string parts add an unnecessary weight to otherwise fine pop songs like "Do You Remember" and "Kansai." I'm not saying eliminate the strings -- maybe just ease up on them. There's just something about the obvious juxtaposition between the gravity of the strings and frontman Wes Miles' bouncy falsetto that doesn't always mesh.

Conversely, The Orchard reaches its high point on songs like the single "Boy" and "Too Dramatic," a song where the string parts stay light and energized and instead the focus is on the skipping percussion and Miles' sliding vocals. On "Too Dramatic" and "Foolish," the airy synth lend the music an appealing, upbeat feel, similar to Miles' superior electronic side project with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, Discovery. It's also pleasant to hear Lawn's sweet vocals on "You and I Know," another track that focuses on keys and drums; similarly, the best moments of the album's subtle closing track, "Keep It Quiet," are at the beginning, when it's just harmonized vocals and slow synth. Subtle, clear, and quite pretty -- no extra drama needed.

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