Published Feb 17, 2016Unapologetically pop-inclined outfit Ra Ra Riot bring endless love vibes on their fourth studio album, Need Your Light. It was their last album, 2013's Beta Love, that marked a turning point for the Syracuse, NY band, from string-heavy orchestral pop to more straightforward, synth-infused melodies and riffs. While that move was a lateral one — not necessarily a positive thing, but not a negative one either — the band's new LP finds the band moving forward slightly, with tighter tracks that really rely on singer Wes Miles' signature glass-sharp vocals.
Opener "Water" and "I Need Your Light" were produced by former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij, and hint at their musical influence; the latter uses percussion in a way that could be described as clamouring, out of place even, but the carol-style vocals at the song's end give it an angelic edge and allude to the titular light. The climax and buildup of the track make for a beautiful, unique ending that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
As the years have gone by, Ra Ra Riot have become less dependent on their string section, which now consists solely of violinist Rebecca Zeller. While the unfortunate lack of prominent violin interludes will be missed by fans of the band's early days, their use of synths and a more pervasive guitar sound on "Bad Times" and "Foreign Lovers" are two of the strongest points on Need Your Light. "Bouncy Castle" is strange but cute, with bubbly electronic tones and layered vocals; the result is a kind of date anthem for the cutesy. Finally, "Suckers" is the epitome of indie-rock bubble gum pop.
Need Your Light is certainly a step up from Beta Love, but Ra Ra Riot are missing the orchestral edge that originally set them apart from other groups in their genre, making it feel inessential despite being quite likeable. (Arts & Crafts)