Chamber pop Impressionists, Ra Ra Riot outdid themselves with creating some of the most beautiful music on the indie market. They exist where violin and cello flourishes dance like the wind flirts with the wheat and makes waves that look like the ocean.
The opening song, “The Orchard” has no percussion at all, giving a different feeling. Throughout the album, they create some beautiful dissonances in the backing vocals, as well as lovely harmonies vocally and with violin and cello. Their solid classical music background comes though with clarity in their complex rhythms, harmonies, use of suspensions, and anticipations. Once-upon-a-time music majors Alexandra Lawn and Rebecca Zeller added alterations in bowing on different verses for extra interest and also waxed more virtuosic than onThe Rhumb Line.
Wes Miles high tenor/falsetto is equal parts masculine and beautiful. He relates tales with lyrics which, much like Impressionist poets of yesteryear, seem more like a remembrances of feelings, filtered recollections of events, and hushed whispers.
Their album cover could be a Thomas Kinkade painting in a land where it’s always dusk and the lights shine happily through the windows. This is such a contrast to the general Indie Misery in which so many groups feel they have to dwell to be considered legit. Indie Misery is a place they could easily dwell considering that every release is dedicated to their deceased drummer, John Pike.
When they bring in a more rock sound, they pick up a touch 1970s Fleetwood Mac flair, but also get a little Afro-pop with the guitar solos (they are known to hang out with Vampire Weekend, after all). They also range into reggae-ish territory at times. The addition of cello and violin makes them unique, (Fortunately for them, the world today seems much more willing to accept their semi-classical sound, as opposed to Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain in 1984) In the Fleetwood Mac department, Alexandra Lawn sings lead vocals on “You and I Know” channeling a touch of Stevie Nicks on the vocals.
Ra Ra Riot makes a fairly clear case for chamber pop being art music of today, though largely unrecognized by the classical snobs. (Why are classical songs the only ones labeled “art songs”?) And the rock snobs have given the funniest looks to those who want to hear music that’s pretty and delightful to the ears and just call it “twee.”
Depeche Mode was brave enough to release some strangely beautiful tunes as singles, if any one recalls the delicate tenor voice of Martin Gore singing “Somebody” (1985) with just piano and heartbeat, or the darkly delicious, “One Caress” (1994) with just a string quintet. At times the universe is merciful enough to give such uniquely inspired artists who break some rules and do their own thing, Ra Ra Riot is one of those groups.