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Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line

Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

RA RA Riot’s excellent debut album The Rhumb Line may have been born from tragedy… but it’s very much a triumph; and a life affirming one at that.

Shortly after releasing an EP that drew everyone’s attention, Ra Ra Riot drummer and song co-writer John Ryan Pike drowned in the ocean following a show in Massachusetts.

His death, its implications and the band’s newfound appreciation for life hangs heavily throughout the album; but far from bringing it down, it appears to have served as a catalyst for the band to achieve even more greatness.

Hence, rather than merely delivering another album of new wave and classic indie, Ra Ra Riot have added sweeping orchestral arrangements into the mix as well. The result is bold, ambitious and quite often beautiful.

And yet unlike Arcade Fire, to whom they have been compared, there’s still a very keen pop sensibility to proceedings. Songs retain a briskness, a liveliness and an ability to easily appeal. They don’t sound that epic, or weighty.

It’s a neat trick, but one that confirms Ra Ra Riot as a very bright act indeed. Take a song like Each Year, for instance – vocally, there’s a post-punk quality to proceedings, while violins and cello jostle for position with nu-wave guitar licks, enabling the song to be appreciated on many levels.

Album highlight Winter ’05, meanwhile, opens with an orchestral sweep that’s utterly seductive… before delivering a song about loneliness that’s positively dripping with sadness, yet strangely beautiful.

Dying Is Fine, on the other hand, kicks off amid a flurry of energetic guitar riffs, before easing in the violins, and a chorus that proclaims “I wouldn’t like death if death were good”.

Can You Tell mixes organs and strings with a Sixties girl-group beat and finds singer Wesley Miles in slightly more optimistic territory, while Oh, La hopefully insists “we have to stick together” to heighten the sense of uplift.

It’s credit to Ra Ra Riot that given all that’s happened to them they can still produce an album that remains inspiring, rather than depressing. But lyrically and instrumentally, The Rhumb Line – named after a bar that lay close to Pike’s home in Gloucester, Massachusetts – is a fine example of how positivity and even fulfilment can come from even the darkest, most trying of times. It’s a terrific album.

Download picks: Ghost Under Rocks, Winter ’05, Dying Is Fine, Can You Tell, Oh, La, Run My Mouth

Track listing:

  1. Ghost Under Rocks
  2. Each Year
  3. St Peter’s Day Festival
  4. Winter ’05
  5. Dying Is Fine
  6. Can You Tell
  7. Too Too Too Fast
  8. Oh La
  9. Suspended In Gaffa
  10. Run My Mouth