Ra Ra Riot left every ounce of emotion on their sleeve with their debut, The Rhumb Line, an album that was built on Mathieu Santos' steady bass and sweeping string arrangements. 2010's The Orchard found more of the same, giving cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller even more room to maneuver. Both albums had the right mix of comfort and bliss, with tracks like Each Year and Boy serving as proof that this band could get you moving.
Unfortunately, this is where Beta Love misses the mark. Lead singer, Wes Miles has said that the album was in part inspired by Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near, with the idea that people eventually transcend their human form and become part of technology. With that in mind, you can call this album a complete success; it is absolutely cold to the touch, vacant and breathless.
The rapid-fire drums and 80's synth on Binary Mind lack any emotion at all; sounding more like a long-lost Mega Man level than what we've come to expect. The first single, Beta Love, fares much better with striking strings and a noodling bass line that finds the right balance between the past and future.
Is It Too Much is the only glance back and my favorite song of the album with busy keys, a hint of guitar, warm strings and human emotion. What I Do For You is a glaring miscue, with trunk-rattling bass and shrieking vocals. Consider yourself lucky that it's the shortest song on the album.
That Much and I Shut Off attempt to salvage the album, but are far too late. Both feature live instruments, inventive synths and soaring refrains with electronic elements filling in the gaps. Had the band and producer, Dennis Herring, followed that path they might have found a stronger album without dismissing the band's signature sound.
The stream below is for a limited time. I expect Barsuk to remove it when Beta Love is released on Tuesday. Tickets are still available for their show at the Metro on March 1st.