Getting one of the biggest names in alternative/indie music today to work with you is not an easy feat. Luckily for Ra Ra Riot, their ten-year career has spanned over the same time as Vampire Weekend’s, fellow New Yorkers and now a huge name in alt-indie music. Taking full advantage of their friend, Rostam Batmanglij’s name (now ex-keyboardist of Vampire Weekend), Ra Ra Riot has plastered ROSTAM all over pretty much everything regarding the fourth full-length studio album titled Need Your Light.
Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles has actually worked with VW’s Rostam Batmanglij in past pretty extensively, including Discovery, where the two joined together to release a full-length record LP, and Batmanglij also produced a few tracks off of Ra Ra Riot’s previous release, Beta Love. Now Rostam is featured vocally on two of the ten tracks that compose Need Your Light, in addition to producing the two as well.
I’ll go ahead and say it- the two “Rostam” tracks are the best of the bunch. “Water” is the opening track, and it is breathtaking. Ra Ra Riot to me has always been a very closely related cousin to Passion Pit- loud, poppy, and tons of synth. This track strips all of that down and does something very Vampire Weekend-like by focusing on Miles’ vocals rather than the noise they’re making. The percussion backbone is beautiful, and I love the story behind the music video for this track as well.
Of course, let’s go ahead and directly mention that ROSTAM BATMANGLIJ [Editor’s. Note, or rather, Editor’s Interjection: more fittingly, the actual creative genius behind] of VAMPIRE WEEKEND directed it. Beyond that, it was filmed in one day with a couple of cameras throughout Southern California. It’s just so simple in a way that is not conventionally Ra Ra Riot and I appreciate it. This is by far the best song on the record, and my favorite, so I’ll be referring back to this one a lot.
However, as soon as you fall into the soothing new direction of Ra Ra Riot, you’re immediately met with “Absolutely”, which is the beginning of the eight tracks (to the press push of this record) that were not produced by Rostam. “Absolutely” is a good tune, and makes me excited for the rest of this year lyrically, but why did this go after “Water”?? I feel like this was a bad choice structurally. However, the strings still sound exactly how they did on this track despite the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn from the band last year, so this sounds pretty classically Ra Ra Riot. Despite opening with the most un-Ra Ra Riot song ever… Whatever though. Moving on, “Foreign Lovers” is another one of the standout tracks to me, despite not being branded with Rostam’s blessings, and this is the best song lyric-wise on the record by far.
“I Need Your Light” is one that everyone else seems to like except me. It’s the other Rostam track, and it just pales in comparison to “Water” and the previous three songs. It is overwhelmingly repetitive, and underwhelming in every other sense. Vocally, lyrically, and sonically there was so much more that could have been done. I know that they were trying to go for a loud, statement track that builds up from a minimal start, and it never fully reaches that breakout moment.
“Bad Times” returns to that synthy goodness that Ra Ra Riot has perfected, and “Call Me Out” sits perfectly in between Rostam Ra Ra Riot and old Ra Ra Riot. “Instant Breakup” is the catchiest of the bunch lyrically, and I enjoy the idea that this song explores of “Can we do this thing without instant breakup?” This track, along with “Water” and “Foreign Lovers” kept my attention beyond the start and finish of the song itself. “Every Time I’m Ready to Hug” is another stereotypical Ra Ra Riot tune, but I still find myself getting into it.
That’s the main issue I have with this record- I feel like they wanted to push the boundaries of what their music can do, but they didn’t push it far enough. What we received is another cliché Ra Ra Riot record, marketed as going in a new direction under the command of Rostam from Vampire Weekend, yet I’m sitting here with virtually another 10 of the same Ra Ra Riot songs.
I say this all with a catch though – I do enjoy Ra Ra Riot, so I’m happy to have ten new songs. But I feel like what they were going for was not what they created, and I can feel it in the music… especially “Bouncy Castle”. This is the only song I particularly dislike on this album. It just isn’t good in any way at all… but I appreciate its placement on the record because it makes me like “Suckers” that much more.
“Suckers” is the last song of the ten, and I feel like it follows on the path of pushing into the new direction of their sound, despite not being one of the Rostam tracks. The minimal percussion combined with tasteful synth allows Wes Miles’ voice to completely shine and close the album on a really interesting note.
With all this being said, I still feel like this record is going to be the thing that pushes Ra Ra Riot into being a front-runner in alternative music this year. Name dropping Rostam every second of the way to the release of this album has indeed proved fruitful, as this made the front page of Spotify last Friday upon its release and “Water” is getting some pretty decent radio airplay.
Ra Ra Riot is also set for a pretty hefty North American tour (which I will be attending and I will let you know how the live show goes) and a few festival appearances this summer. So although this was a pretty mediocre fourth release, there are moments of brilliance that should, and have been, capitalized on of the commercial success of this band.
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