It hasn’t been too long since Ra Ra Riot released The Rhumb Line, but you’ll notice a few sonic shifts when taking on their new record, The Orchard. While their first album featured a lot of dark imagery furthered by the string arrangements, this new record doesn’t seem as dense, and the clarity of the vocals, while impressive, sort of seems forced.
While “The Orchard” isn’t the longest song on this latest effort, it definitely drags on. Vocals and strings are the predominant players here, but the song doesn’t really show a lot of movement, and it almost has the feeling of a spoken-word piece. But, if you’re looking for the bubbling bass from their debut, it does exist , such as on the following track, “Boy.” That being said, there’s not a lot else that comes to the forefront of the song, and again you find the band struggling to establish themselves with any sort of distinct sound.
It’s clear that Ra Ra Riot are in a different place entirely on The Orchard, and you’ll discover that sentiment just listening to the production of the record. Vocals are dominating throughout, and the arrangements are a lot more sparse, allowing a lot of the instrumentation to blossom within the songs themselves. The problem with this approach is that it sort of removes the sense of beautiful chaos that earned the band a lot of early praise after the release of their first EP. On “Foolish,” for instance, there are spots where you could say a lot is going on, with strings, drums, etc, but thrown altogether, they just don’t have the same punch that the group once championed. Even the pace of the majority of the tracks seems far removed from where the band left off, and this creates the sensation that a lot of these tracks are forced into completion.
One entry that does stand out is remarkable is “You and I Know,” which features vocals from cellist Alexandra. It’s a nice change in the overall feeling of The Orchard, but it’s far too polished. The band’s web site had a look at some raw recordings of the track, and they evoked a stronger emotion upon listening to that recording, as opposed to the one that makes the final cut of the record. Therein lives the great problem of this record as a whole. It’s too clean, and too earnest to please. The Boy EP had a great song titled “Saccharin and the War” that gave hints at bigger things going on for the band, but it didn’t make the cut. Whether Ra Ra Riot felt it didn’t fit the cohesiveness of this collection of songs is no matter, as it’s absence, and songs more in that manner definitely leave much to be desired here. In all honesty, none of the record is horrible, none of it is bad, its just, well, there. That’s sort of where this record lives, in a place where it was unable to distinguish itself from the other music of like-minded bands out there today.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/02-Boy.mp3]
Download: Ra Ra Riot – Boy [MP3]