It’s hard to know exactly what kind of effect Canadian sextet Rah Rah are shooting for. Some sort of punk-inspired DIY aesthetic runs through the songs on Breaking Hearts — musical and (especially) vocal skill are at a minimum as songs careen from the heartfelt to the twee, incorporating an overly familiar sonic palette that relies heavily on hornet-in-your-ear indie rock buzz guitar. Vocals are rough and grating, and none of it is terribly interesting.
Breaking Hearts kicks off with “Arrows”, a generic indie-rocker featuring watery guitars and quavery, Neil Young-esque vocals (The album doesn’t tell you who plays what, so you just have to take a guess). “Arrows” is inoffensive enough, if unmemorable, and upon repeated listenings even develops a certain level of comfortable familiarity. This is true for a number of songs here; they will never stand out, and they’re hard to recall later, but while you’re listening to them, they seem like tunes you’ve been hearing — somewhere — for years already, It’s up to you whether or not this is a good thing.
Before long, however, the shortcomings of “Arrows” — the thin vocals, repetitive song structure, simplistic rhythms — reveal themselves as integral parts of the band’s repertoire. Too bad. “Ghosts” has some decent male-female vocals throughout, but headache-inducer “Henry” is just strident and uninteresting. Wisely, the band dials back the treble-heavy guitars for “Beaches”, but this has the unfortunate effect of putting even more attention on the vocals, whose unschooled rawness just can’t bear the weight of these songs. To be sure, there’s a good kind of “unschooled rawness”, often found in blues and rock, among other places. This isn’t it, though. The record hits rock bottom with “Communist Man,” an 85-second throwaway that feels much longer. It is, presumably, intended to be funny.
The second half of the record is as uninspired and forgettable as the first. With seven of the 13 tunes falling into the two-to-three-minute range, and only one (closer “Parkade”) topping four minutes, the songs tend toward a certain formula: jangly guitar intro; thudding rhythms underpinning everything, usually dropping away halfway through to leave the the squeaky verses front and center; and of course those weakest-link vocals. As mentioned earlier, some songs have a certain familiar quality to them, like “Lightning”, with its mid-tempo waves and background “Whoo-oo-oo"s.
Meanwhile, the egregious “Joey” tries to co-opt cool by name-dropping Joey Ramone, and fails. The only-slightly-less-annoying “What About Love” throws tuneless female solo vocals into the mix, to no good effect. There are four songs to follow, but you get the idea. Little stands out, and when it does, it’s usually not in a good way. The unexpected piano textures that run through “Lightning” are a rare exception.
“Breaking Hearts” is the strongest song here, a pounding rocker that convinces with its verve and distributes vocal duties to at least three of the participants. It comes too late in the day to salvage the record, but maybe — let’s be hopeful — it points to a stronger direction for the band. Set aside the indie-rock wishy-washiness and embrace the riff, guys. You might like what you find.