Ra Ra Riot | The Orchard (Barsuk)

But wait…that rhythm line. I swear I’ve heard it somewhere before. Oh, that’s right: Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Are you a Ra Ra Riot fan? Did you like The Rhumb Line? Enough to want to hear any and all songs that may have come out of those recording sessions? If so, you’re in for a treat with The Orchard…in the world where “a treat” means less of what you want.
The Orchard sounds like the less remarkable step-brother of The Rhumb Line, or maybe a collection of outtakes that didn’t make the cut first time through. There’s nothing all that wrong with it, per se; there’s just nothing to get too excited about, either.
An angry-sounding violin kicks off the meandering opening track “The Orchard,” a song which stays stripped down. While singer Wes Miles has an interesting voice, it’s also a somewhat fragile voice; up against such sparse instrumentation it doesn’t quite hold up. “Boy,” at least, is a rocker, more of what you’ve no doubt come to expect from this art school band. But wait…that rhythm line. I swear I’ve heard it somewhere before. Oh, that’s right: Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It doesn’t matter how many special effects you throw over it, guys; it’s still a ripoff.
Somebody must have told this band they’re best when the violin is high in the mix. While violins in rock music are nothing new, they’re still rare enough to be appreciated—when they’re actually rare, that is. Here they’re just overused. “Too Dramatic” tries to set itself apart, yet it still has that “been there, done that—and better” feel to it. But at least it tries; “Foolish” doesn’t even leave the ground. Eerie, ethereal harmonies join forces on “Massachusetts,” itself lyrically repetitious and obtuse. “You and I Know” is the band’s ode to female vocalists; a nice change of pace, but not much else. “Shadowcasting” hearkens back to The Rhumb Line in a mostly good way, though the continual waiting-for-a-payoff-that-never-comes does tend to get old.
There’s a flash of ’80s new wave to “Do You Remember,” some keyboard hijinx mixing with the aching strings. “Kansai” is more of a wave of indie rock, though it alternates between styles and sounds too much to be cohesive. And, of course, a closing song called “Keep It Quiet” doesn’t bode well for Ra Ra Riot finding the rock this go ’round. Oh well; may as well just accept The Orchard for what it is and drop any previously held hopes or expectations.
Or—even better—scroll back up to The Rhumb Line and listen to that one again. C- | Laura Hamlett
RIYL: The Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, ’70s mellow moustache rock
About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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