Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, August 31, 2010 8:28 PM

The Orchard is not as uniformly upbeat and joyous as Ra Ra Riot's debut The Rhumb Line, which is somewhat of a surprise, given that the band does breezy upbeat chamber pop so well.  Still, there's something unexpectedly captivating about the band's new album, which represents not so much a change of direction as it does a commitment to exploring a greater variety of arrangements and moods.

In the pretty, melancholic opener "The Orchard," lead singer Wesley Miles is complemented by an achingly beautiful combination of Rebecca Zeller's violin and Alexandra Lawn's cello.  The song serves to re-orient the listener's expectations: This is not going to be a rehash of the first record. 

Still, it transitions perfectly into lead single "Boy," which sounds like it could have been lifted from The Rhumb Line.  While this is Ra Ra Riot's bread and butter, "Boy" is the result of a more experienced, self-assured band.  No matter what direction they pursue in the future, Ra Ra Riot will probably always have the ability to write a great song like this.

"Boy" is not the only upbeat song on the record.  The hyper "Too Dramatic" augments the band's typical sound with retro synths.  "Shadowcasting" bounces along before delivering a soaring chorus.  In both songs, Miles sounds more confident and mature than ever.  His growth as a front man is perhaps The Orchard's greatest accomplishment.

That being said, The Orchard also marks the first Ra Ra Riot record to feature cellist Alexandra Lawn on lead vocals (on "You and I Know").  It's always refreshing when the female singer in an indie band does not sound like every other female singer in an indie band (that is, sort of cutesy).  One of the album's highlights, "You and I Know" smolders like Stevie Nicks at her most heart-wrenching.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive comments above, The Orchard is a bit of a grower, especially for anyone expecting the carefree joy of the band's debut.  After repeated listens, though, it is clear that Ra Ra Riot have defied the so-called sophomore slump and crafted a record that exceeds its predecessor.

The Orchard:

You and I Know:

In addition, "Boy" can be found here.

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