After the 2012 departure of founding member and cellist Alexandra Lawn, Ra Ra Riot fans and music media outlets alike questioned the future of the Syracuse, N.Y.-based group.
However, as guitarist Milo Bonacci would accurately predict, Lawn leaving did not mark the end of the band’s ’80s-inspired indie pop.
Ra Ra Riot’s third studio album, “Beta Love,” is the first release since Lawn left the band nearly one year ago. However, the album features the same catchy electronic beats, falsetto vocals from lead singer Wes Miles and deep new-wave roots that listeners have come to expect from the band.
Despite the sugary sweet pop melodies, the concept album’s content reaches beyond the superficial: an android who has fallen in love—and with a human, of all love interests—and the emotional strife that comes along with the feelings.
“Dance With Me” opens with a piano riff and soaring vocals reminiscent of fellow baroque pop band fun. before breaking into a terribly danceable chorus. “Come and dance with me, bittersweet fool,” Miles sings, alluding to the prevalent motif of dark lyrics over upbeat tunes.
“Binary Mind” explores the inner mechanics of a robot in love. “Tell me why I wanna read you with this binary mind,” wonders the android. “Cause if I do/I’m sure that we’ll be complete…so I can forget how lonely feels.”
The titular track continues the unrequited, hopeless romantic musings of the hero of “Beta Love”: “I might be a prototype but we’re both real inside/In this city of robot hearts/ours were meant to beat.”
Miles’ auto-tuned crooning in “Is It Too Much” introduces the slower side to the album.
In “For Once,” Ra Ra Riot seems to channel Daft Punk with a two-word chorus. In fact, the track takes inspiration from a number of pop and electronic artists before it; the bridge features a Vampire Weekend-esque guitar, and the track calls back to the melancholy-pop mood created by The Postal Service on their 2003 album “Give Up.”
The head-bobbing synth returns—this time interlaced with violin—in “Angel, Please,” the track that has the most chance of becoming a surprise hit single with its simple lyrics and ultra-catchy chorus.
While performing “What I Do for U,” Miles must feel some nostalgia for Discovery—his side project with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij—as its distorted and incomprehensible Vocoder vocals and synthetic noise-pop beats could easily be a B-side to the 2009’s “LP.”
Miles gives voice to the robotic hero again in the synth-laden ballad “When I Dream,” surrendering to the fact that robot-human relationships don’t work out: “When I dream, it’s not of you/I run but you follow/drop to my knees but you haunt me more.”
During the album’s climax, the down-tempo “Wilderness” evokes a feeling of emotional despair.
“You will share your best/I will do the same through this wilderness/Oh, why, friend/Don’t share the pain,” Miles sings.
The final track, “I Shut Off,” marks the return of the dance sound and ambiguously dark lyrics: “Who wants a human love/A death trap/A suicide club/I do,” Miles sings over upbeat music.
Any naysayers who predicted the departure of Ra Ra Riot’s founding member to be the harbinger of the band’s dissolution were certainly wrong in their expectations.
While it might be a fallacy to expect any track from “Beta Love” to crop up on a list by “Billboard” or Ryan Seacrest, Ra Ra Riot has definitely not lost their knack for crafting catchy indie pop tracks.