Despite the tragedy surrounding its release, Ra Ra Riot's debut EP is worth your attention.
Even avoiding the easy news story, Ra Ra Riot's still a band to be interested in. The band, hailing from upstate New York, plays an exuberant brand of indie pop informed by the dance-rock of recent years but more chamber music in orientation. Most prominently, you can hear a cello providing bass arpeggios or a different timbre of chug, and it's a welcome addition to an otherwise familiar sound. On the extended second sections of their songs, the repeated groove can recall obvious heroes the Rapture (check the cowbells on "Everest"); but we forgive the band its influences because of the ever-upbeat attitude and a reputation for splintering live shows.
Ra Ra Riot - Dying is Fine
"Dying Is Fine" is perhaps the best song on the EP. The accompaniment of low-pitched strings is particularly exciting -- you don't hear that enough in pop music -- but it's the stomping chorus really hits home. You'll be chanting "I wouldn't like death if death were good", a line that's perhaps taken on a different meaning for the band now. As it evolves, the six-minute song transforms into a jittery, instrumental groove spinning seemingly to infinity. It's really effective. Almost as good is the final track, "Ghost Under Rocks". Over pizzicato strings and low, fast arpeggios, the layered vocal harmonies create an effectively eerie atmosphere, and the chorus again proves more than solid.
There are moments of imperfection -- singer Wesley Miles' voice falters occasionally when straining for high notes -- but overall this EP makes a strong case for us to look forward with excitement to a debut full-length. Death can have a paralysing or a galvanic effect on those affected by it: we know the latter's possible from Arcade Fire's Funeral. We can only hope that Ra Ra Riot can channel the tragedy of John Pike's death into a creative catharsis: on the basis of the Ra Ra Riot EP, we can be confident the start's more than solid.