In my mind, I always think I like Ra Ra Riot more than I actually do. The thing about Ra Ra Riot is that they have a few jams, but only just a few. “Can You Tell” and “The Orchard” are the shit, and if anyone says otherwise they’re just lying. The problem I now realize, though, is that “Can You Tell” and “The Orchard” are the only Ra Ra Riot songs that I’ll never tire of — every other song they’ve ever produced sounds identical and annoying after three listens. And as I’m sitting here at Espresso Royale listening to their latest album, Need Your Light, I find it hard to decipher one song from the next.
Produced by Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, Need Your Light is a 10-track, feel-good album falling somewhere in between Passion Pit’s high-energy, upbeat vibes and Vampire Weekend’s baroque/indie-rock sound. Overall, the album as a whole isn’t awful — Ra Ra Riot’s sound has come a long way, no doubt. With dazzling violins intertwined with Wes Miles’s iconic chirpy vocals and electronic synth beats, Need Your Light is one of the least depressing albums I’ve ever listened to. It could be played at an ’80s dance party, on the beach as you sip a pina colada or as you lay in an eno, swaying peacefully on a breezy summer evening, high on all sorts of good stuff.
Despite the fact that this album almost took away the pain of my broken foot with its peaceful, positive energy, I failed to add a single song to any playlist. It’s not that any song in particular is bad, they just all sound the same. For example, “Absolutely” is a pretty solid jam, in that I could play it in the car for a few weeks without tiring of it, but will it be played a year from now? Nah. Similarly, I would dub “Call Me Out” a highlight of the album — it’s catchy, features the iconic Ra Ra Riot violin/cello integration and surprisingly features lyrics that actually vary every line or two — but, again, I can barely remember what it sounds like after listening to the rest of the album.
The only significantly different songs, at the end of the day, aren’t even Ra Ra Riot products at all — Rostam was featured on “Waters” and “I Need Your Light,” resulting in the two best and the two most stylistically distinct songs on the album. “Waters” is a smooth, calming track while “I Need Your Light” is just all around solid. But I think it’s only solid because Rostam made it solid. It’s less synth-pop and more indie-rock, Vampire Weekend-esque with the soaring vocals and lack of bombastic Ra Ra Riot instrumentals; the minute “I Need Your Light” ends, though, we’re back to the same old Ra Ra Riot sound that dominates the album.
But this is where my song-by-song commentary ends — the remainder of the album isn’t much to elaborate on aside from the fact that it very well might have been intended for Cyndi Lauper to sing.