As you may or may not know, Ra Ra Riot lost their first drummer, John Pike, in an unfortunate and mysterious drowning accident. While he didn’t appear in a physical form on their debut album, The Rhumb Line, he is credited as a songwriter on half of its ten tracks, including many of the album’s better songs like ‘Dying Is Fine’, ‘Too Too Too Fast’ and ‘Each Year’.  Released on Arts&Crafts in Canada, The Orchard marks the first Ra Ra Riot album without Pike’s contributions, and it offers an opportunity for a re-introduction to the band. Unfortunately, the second impression is nowhere near as good as the first.

Strangely, Wes Miles’ voice seems particularly out of place. I’m trying to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with it, what changed between albums, and I’ve settled on the fact that it’s entirely too high in the mix. Combine that with many songs being comparatively minimalistic, you have the makings of a deal breaker.  If there was a bit more substance to the backing music, I could probably overlook it, but the album seems sadly devoid of hooks. Even after a single listen to ‘Too Too Too Fast’ you would at least come away with the synth chords during the verses. The Orchard’s tracks seem to come and go without making much of an impression. First single ‘Boy’ is the closest to previous Ra Ra Riot hits, but it still seems bloodless somehow. Cellist Alexandra Lawn gets a song of her own with ‘You and I Know’, and it injects a little variety into an album that lacks it.

I didn’t know who Ra Ra Riot were before I saw them open for Death Cab for Cutie last year. Their youthful exuberance and catchy tunes made them an instant standout, and incorporating violins and cellos into pop music is always welcome. Sadly, my love for cellos doesn’t extend to this album.

Ra Ra Riot – Boy
Ra Ra Riot – You and I Know

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— , September 3, 2010    Comments Off on Ra Ra Riot: The Orchard

Death Cab for Cutie

April 5, 2009, Toronto, Canada – After missing out on their headlining show on Toronto Island last summer to watch the Evil Dead musical instead, I decided that if I was ever going to see Death Cab for Cutie, it might as well be now.

Coming into the show, I heard that Sound Academy was basically the worst venue in the city for numerous reasons. While the sound wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard, all complaints about location are completely valid. It truly is located in the middle of nowhere; without a ride I would’ve been pretty screwed for getting there. I was really taken aback at how cavernous it was, hardly a comparison to the intimate venues I’m used to frequenting, and hardly the crowd I’m used to. Many jokes were made about the 14-year old girl content of the crowd.

I probably wouldn’t have made the trip if Ra Ra Riot wasn’t opening. I’ve had The Rhumb Line on repeat for the last few months, one of the most overlooked albums of 2008 in my opinion. The  band seemed a little nervous to be playing in front of a crowd that size, but they performed admirably in an all-too-brief set. Cellist Alexandra Lawn’s vocals on ‘Too Too Too Fast’ were sadly drowned out by the rest of the band, somewhat spoiling my favourite song off the album. Still, I’d jump at the chance to see them at a smaller venue. They showed some great energy.

I didn’t care for Cold War Kids. Prior to the show my only exposure was the song ‘We Used to Vacation’, which I didn’t mind, and which didn’t get played. Their performance didn’t impress me at all. It was very classic rock-influenced, and the music was fine, if a little bland, but what got me were the vocals. I really couldn’t stand their singer. If I had any chance of getting to the merch table and back during their set, I probably would’ve done that, but instead I sipped my Moosehead and quietly waited for them to finish.

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— , April 17, 2009    10 Comments

Ra Ra Riot

College campus heroes Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend have been buddies for years. Ra Ra spent ’06 and ’07 opening for Editors, Art Brut and Tokyo Police Club. The release of their debut LP got delayed after their drummer, JR Pike, died last year. His untimely death inspired the song “Dying is Fine,” which is probably the band’s most interesting song yet. Vampire Weekend on the other hand has been all over the place this year, including here. Both bands are typically categorized as “Indie Rock/Pop”, although I’m going to have to check with Sabrina to make sure they’re not Lo-Fi / Math Rock with a hint of Twee. Given this, it came as a surprise to me to hear the sound and style of the new project Discovery.

Rostam Batmanglij (the brains behind the VW sound) went to his buddy Wes Miles (lead singer of Ra Ra) and told him that he wanted to make an EP that sounded like a collaboration between The Album Leaf and T-Pain. The baby of this collabo is the “Discovery EP” which can be heard on the pair’s Myspace page. Rostam has Wes singing through an auto-toner on one song, uses fatter synths than DJ Toomp laid down on Kanye’s Flashing Lights on another track, while dropping poppy romantic lyrics like “Oh baby baby baby babe, how long am I supposed to wait, I think about you nightly, can you tell I’m nervous every time you speak?” over sweet sweet electro-pop beats.

The three track EP is sweeet and features three songs that I can’t download anywhere. So head over to the Discovery MySpace page and enjoy.

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— , April 6, 2008    5 Comments