Review: Ra Ra Riot’s “Beta Love” is hit or miss, mainly miss

Ryan Morris

Editor’s note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Trading string arrangements for synthesizers, indie-rock band Ra Ra Riot stages an interesting and completely unprecedented migration from familiar territory to that of modern dance-pop and R&B with “Beta Love.”

The band is also using this opportunity to embark on a large scale US tour, placing lofty assumptions on the new and strange direction taken on the band’s third album.

This level of ambitiousness for a band known mainly for their charmingly awkward and preppy cello arrangements does not make much sense. That said, there are a few gems hidden on “Beta Love” once one forfeits all expectations.

The overall conflicted feel of this album is set with “Dance With Me,” an upbeat and catchy dance song that while it immediately sounds familiar, is completely unexpected given the band’s track record. The song is immediately followed by the even more driving and electric “Binary Mind,” its machine-gun beat leaving the listener without room for reflection.

Whereas previous albums coupled heartbreaking pop tunes with triumphant indie-anthems, “Beta Love” simply sticks with the same electronic beat and will not stop forcing it in your face. The lack of juxtaposition only emphasizes just how fast dancing can get old.

The majority of “Beta Love” follows that same hit or miss mentality. Songs such as the title track bring some of the aspects of classic 80’s pop that have always been relevant to Ra Ra Riot’s work, but never explored nearly as much as they are with “Beta Love.”

What the band does well on this album is to showcase their existing talents in an entirely new electronic context. “Is it Too Much” and “When I Dream” are just hyped enough to reveal the band’s lyrical and danceable strong suits that may have otherwise stayed off the radar.

The band fails, however, in the cases where they abandon any and all aspects of their usual formula. Everything about “What I Do For U,” down to the pseudo-trendy abbreviation in the title, is too forced, too modern and too over-produced.

Even in the tracks that make it, there is still the common theme of an unpleasant sugary aftertaste. What the band wants to call spontaneity and “creative decision-making” in production comes off more as one too many layers of noise added after recording.

“Wilderness” follows this forced hype to the point of being laughably unexpected; its sexy R&B riffs would not make sense in any context, except perhaps blaring midday in an empty Urban Outfitters.

In all, Ra Ra Riot has made a respectable effort to explore a new musical playing field, the only downfall is the inherently polarizing nature of that field. Perhaps next time they will calm down a little and stick with what is proven to work for them.

Rating: Two out of four stars.

Story: LOVEY COOPER, A&E Reporter