Review of The Rhumb Line Album by Ra Ra Riot

Album review of Ra Ra Riot's The Rhumb Line released through V2 Records.

Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line Album

Little known outside of their native New York until recently, Ra Ra Riot’s most noteworthy moment to date would undoubtedly surround the untimely passing away of drummer John Pike last summer. A co-founder and occasional songwriter of the band, Pike’s tragic death seemed to eclipse the marginal success the band had just started to enjoy, and many a lesser outfit than Ra Ra Riot would have just folded and called it a day as a result.

Instead, Ra Ra Riot, already armed with a batch of instantly catchy songs, went about their business in the best possible way they could that not only serves as a tribute to their dear, departed drummer, but also highlights what a talented bunch of musicians and songwriters they have in their ranks.

Much of ‘The Rhumb Line’ was actually co-written by Pike and a number of the songs on here have already appeared previously on the band’s self-titled first EP, released just months before the drummer’s apparent drowning, and last year’s ‘Dying Is Fine’ seven-inch which showcased their talents to an (at the time) unsuspecting UK audience.

Although some cynics may argue – wrongly – that Ra Ra Riot have gone for the sympathy vote here particularly by way of including songs that on the surface seem to be about Pike’s death – ‘Dying Is Fine’ we’ve already mentioned, ‘Ghost Under Rocks’ and ‘Too Too Too Fast’ we haven’t yet – such suspicions couldn’t be further from the truth, as Pike actually had a hand in writing all three compositions as well as the album’s stand-out moment, ‘Each Year’ and maudlin ‘St Peter’s Day Festival’. Since those earlier versions of course, the band have inked a major record deal with V2, subsequently re-recording all of the original demos and fortunately, they sound meatier and more wholesome for it, vocalist Wes Miles sounding particularly distinctive and charismatic throughout.

The only downside here, as with so many American college-reared bands of a similar orientation, is that despite the finely tuned arrangements and incisive melodies on ‘The Rhumb Line’, Ra Ra Riot in general don’t really sound THAT different to any number of Stateside combos treading a similar path – Islands, The Spinto Band, Vampire Weekend – take your pick, and in the long term maybe a little more individuality is going to be required if they’re ever going to stand out from an already over-saturated crowd.

Still, ‘The Rhumb Line’ isn’t a bad place to start, if a tad predictable in places. Just don’t expect miracles or drastic changes in direction yet, but in the future, who knows…?


Dom Gourlay

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