Reading early buzz and fan comments over at last.fm and other places on the internet make it seem as though this album isn’t being received well. On one hand I can kinda understand why. With the departure cellist Alexandra Lawn, prior to this album, the sound of this band is most definitely changed. To me, the heart of this band is still beautiful and catchy indie pop and think that remains unchanged. I think this band is still at the top of their game. Beta Love sounds completely different then their previous work but this is not a bad thing. Their previous album introduced more synths and electronics into the formula but those elements are cranked up here. This shift in sound has resulted in the frustration I mentioned previously.
This album seems to be built on two things robot/digital references and an unrepentant danciness. Lead singer, Wes Miles’ voice is such a stong and prominent instrument on this album with his range and use of falsettos throughout. He also has written some very personal material once again that is a little darker than the music that accompanies it might might make you think.
The album starts off with the fun, upbeat number, “Dance With Me” this song is indicative of what you will come to hear on Beta Love. It has a really dancy chorus, “Come and dance with me pretty sweet fool, I wanna be your toy.” This line gives you an idea of the sometimes carefree nature of the song and album as a whole. The next tune is equally as dancy but cranks up the electronics on “Binary Mind”. This song talks about being more computer/robot like, because as Wes says, “That’s why I need this binary mind so I can forget how lonely feels.”
On the title track and first single “Beta Love” Ra Ra Riot rock you like never before. It is catchy, sunny, dancy and fun. It is some of the poppiest stuff the band has ever done. I love the line, “In this city of robot hearts, ours were made to beat.” This album, as all Ra Ra Riot albums tend to do, deals with the ups and downs of love and this song is one of the up songs, a hopeful tune about all the possibilities found in new romance.
“Is It Too Much” is a nice bouncy song led by that irrestible keyboard line. Oh man it just sticks in my head. The songs on this album as so short. I would love to see this song fleshed out a little more. The same could be said about the next song. “For Once” is one of poppiest tracks on the album. It has that ‘doot doot doot’ rhythm that you know from every indie pop car commercial song that you’ve ever heard in your life but it’s such a catchy tune you don’t even mind. When they were in town last, opening for Passion Pit, they debuted a few of the new tunes including this one. This one stood out with its memorable hook. “Angel Please” is another super upbeat and captivating song. The chorus is so catchy with its falsettos and toe tapping rhythms that it is another one of these choruses that will be stuck in your head. I also really love the violin in this song from the lovely and talented Rebecca Zeller. If there is a deficiency on this album that is it. Needs more strings!
There are plenty of digital effects, autotune, and booming bass in the quick tune, “What I Do For You”. This is probably my least favorite track. I like the experimentation but I’m not wholly sold on the sound of this one. “When I Dream” is a slow melodic and beautiful song. It is still kinda dancy even though it is a slower song. This song sounds to me like a letter to a former love after a relationship that did not end so well, “Wanna be there, could’ve been more, suddenly thought…I know I wasn’t fair.” Miles continues to say, “Peace is all I’m hoping for,” and “Won’t you pray for my release?” It sounds like someone that has been agonizing about the way things went in a bad relationship.
“That Much” kinda sounds like an older song from the 70s or 80s. I love the retro sound of this song. Everything works together on this one. Bassist Mathieu Santos lays down a nice subtle but important track for the rest of the instruments to play over especially guitarist Milo Bonacci to solo on the outro to this song. The following song, “Wilderness” feels like another retro track, this time kicking it back to a late 90s indie rock sound a la Death Cab For Cutie.
Album closer “I Shut Off” is yet another reminder that this album’s goal is to be as catchy as possible. The chorus is positively sugary. The “I Do”s are so sweet that you can’t help singing along, if they don’t get you, the soaring “Oh”s will. Great way to end the album.
I know that people are expecting Ra Ra Riot to be the same chamber/baroque pop band that they were when they started out. The band has matured, gained new experiences by touring and collaborating with different people, and they have had a few lineup changes. Naturally, all of these things have affected this band’s sound. I think this is an enjoyable album and worthy of a slot in the awesome Ra Ra Riot discography. If you are a long time fan of the band, give this album a little time to grow on you. If you are new to them, maybe heard a single, enjoy it but be aware that their back catalog is A LOT different than this release.