I remember the first time I heard “Oh, La” by Ra Ra Riot: I had just been laid off from my job in marketing, so I called up my other friends who had lost their jobs thanks to the recession and we headed to the Lower East Side. It was a Friday around three, and it was right after I ordered the first, of what would be several beers (I was in mourning, after all), that “Oh, La” came on the speakers. I asked the bartender who it was, who was responsible for such a great song that immediately lifted my spirits from the gutter to some higher plain (yes, I hadn’t even taken a sip of my first beer, and yet that’s how this song made me feel). I bought the album, The Rhumb Line, the very next day, and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since. I’ve seen Ra Ra Riot a couple times in the city, and just bought tickets this morning to see them on September 23rd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn – this is also two days before my birthday, so happy birthday to me!
Ra Ra Riot’s second album, The Orchard, came out on August 24th, and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to listen to it in its entirety. Today was the day: I walked to Brooklyn, over the Williamsburg Bridge, with the album on repeat; and when I walked back after meeting a friend, I already had favorites and was smitten.
One of the things I love about Ra Ra Riot is their use of strings: Alexandra Lawn on the cello, and Rebecca Zeller on the violin. When you combine that with the other three musicians and lead singer, Wes Miles’ voice, it’s simply a recipe (not to be cliché) for something extraordinary, thoughtful and in a caliber all their own. The first song on the album, “The Orchard,” is heavy with those strings that won me over two summers ago. It’s a somber way to start an album, as the song is dark and complicated both musically and lyrically: “My life is dark/And my body aches/Oh this blood in my mouth/Makes me hate/How we both end up,” but despite the shadow it casts, it works.
Just when you’re sort of gasping at the loneliness inflicted upon you from this first song, the mood changes with the second song, “Boy.” It’s a poppy bliss, the type that makes you wish you were home getting ready to go out and jumping on your bed in preparation for the fun evening to come. Both “Too Dramatic” and “Foolish” have a 1980’s feel to them, especially “Foolish” with its densely layered synthesized notes.
“You and I Know” is the only song on the album where Miles gives up the lead vocals to cellist, Alexandra Lawn. It’s a soulful moment, not only because of her voice, but because the song is a departure from their usual sound – it’s a highlight on the album. Lawn has also written the song, and considering the intimacy of the lyrics, one would have to have written those words in order to sing them so ardently. Then Miles returns and finishes off the album with the final four songs.
Ra Ra Riot is an accomplished band; there are no hints of unfinished measures or dangling notes here; nor are there lo-fi garage style fumblings or unkempt endings. They come full circle on The Orchard, and finish just as they start it: somber. There is nothing wrong with somber, of course; it leaves one feeling pensive and nostalgic, and these are two good states in which to be.
In support of The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot is touring extensively, with ample chances for everyone to see them live.
By: Amanda Chatel
14 Sep: Soundgarden, Baltimore, MD
18 Sep: The Cracker Factory, Geneva, NY
21 Sep: Bowery Ballroom, NYC
22 Sep: Bowery Ballroom, NYC
23 Sep: Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
24 Sep: Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
27 Sep: Pearl Street, Northhampton, MA
28 Sep: Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT
29 Sep: The Met, Providence, RI
01 Oct: Royale, Boston, MA
02 Oct: Trocadero, Philly, PA
03 Oct: Diesel, Pittsburgh, PA
04 Oct: Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI
05 Oct: Metro, Chicago, IL
07 Oct: Varsity Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
08 Oct: Waiting Room, Omaha, NB
09 Oct: The Granada Theatre, Lawrence, KS
11 Oct: Bluebird Theatre, Denver, CO
12 Oct: In the Venue, Salt Lake City, UT
The song that started it all for me, “Oh, La,” from 2008′s The Rhumb Line: