Ra Ra Riot
Beta Love


2.3
average

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
January 24th, 2013 | 122 replies


Release Date: 01/22/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dance monkey dance!

Clichés suck, but damn if Beta Love doesn’t qualify for the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. Beta Love itself is sort of a cliché as it is, its music resembling the same kind of rote, brain-dead saying that is force-fed you throughout life at moments that might make you think the dystopian world of Office Space isn’t too far away. The drudgery here isn’t so much a case-of-the-Mondays as a pungent whiff of desperation, a band turning to a genre long since strip-mined to recover some intangible sense of relevance. 2010’s underrated The Orchard was largely ignored by critics and the same fickle public that had made them a buzzworthy group in 2008 and slapped them with a label as crafty and complex as “Vampire Weekend with strings,” yet at least it had soul and feeling, two things that are largely lacking from the mechanical Beta Love. Perhaps the departure of both cellist Alexandra Lawn and drummer Gabe Duquette (the secret ingredient to The Orchard’s success) and various touring struggles necessitated a change, but for much of its running length Beta Love sounds like a half-baked experiment, all knob-fiddling and jagged programming, candied indie-disco hooks that sound tinny and tapped out. It’s not for lack of commitment – Beta Love doubles down hard on an electro-pop sound that comes off as a strong advocate of cheesy ‘80s pop tropes and beating an innocent drum machine to death. Rather, it’s such an abrupt left turn for the band that, for all of its relentlessly chipper four-on-the-floor ecstasy and an ADD ethos that is almost Euro in its manic intensity, it sounds like a fake-out, a grinning rictus for the cameras and the blogs.

The songwriting is still there, thankfully. Hooks like that on “Binary Mind” and the jittery “Angel Please” bounce out of the speakers and seem to embed themselves in your spine, closely approximating certain party favors these restless tunes seem determined to emulate. The guitar solo that stutters through the feedback and rips itself up before resounding into something resembling a pleasant surprise on “That Much” is just the kind of 8-bit titty-twisting that would have been nice to see the band develop further. Instead, however, the hooks tend to come in one of two flavors, be it the propulsive, ready-made dance-floor hit (the aforementioned “Binary Mind” and the skittish “I Shut Off” are probably the best of these, hectic and unhinged energy that is fun in the moment) or relatively midtempo synth-pop (presumably standing in for what would be ballads on another record). Wes Miles, possessor of one of the finer voices in indie rock, races from one end of the scale to another, alternating campy, fun performances like “Angel Please” with octave-stretching reaches like “Beta Love,” with his voice occasionally approaching an absurd, almost pixie-ish quality. Violinist Rebecca Zeller soldiers on with Lawn gone, yet the splicing in of her parts sound like the hurried addition of a frantic producer or the kind of chintzy effect a regular four-piece might cook up, because, you know, strings and shit. It’s a far cry from the organic textures of the band’s past work, where Zeller and Lawn were no less an essential part of the mix than the guitar and drums. The lyrics, reportedly drawing inspiration from “the works of cyberpunk novelist William Gibson and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s musings on technological singularity and transhumanism,” are just as freshman English as you’d expect, groping for a message while everything else on Beta Love is merely content to just shake its ass.

It’s a disconcerting tonal shift, one that gets lost in its own medium as much as it garbles the message it’s ostensibly trying to make. The songs are still there, those hooks hard to resist, a strong pop foundation that is hard to crack despite the trashy synths reaching critical mass here. Yet it lacks the heart that made The Orchard such a rewarding listen, and with its tacky electro-pop sound may lead them to becoming more indistinguishable than they might have been accused of being before. The result is an unfortunately hollow album, recycled in its sound and empty in its emotion.



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user ratings (53)
Chart.
2.5
average
other reviews of this album
Nathan Flynn CONTRIBUTOR (2)
Ra Ra Riot is reduced to beta stage and remains in need of retooling...

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


7321 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

BEHOLD A 0.1 INCREMENT RATING

Anthracks
January 23rd 2013


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

This album is awesome fun

Digging: The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


10583 Comments

Album Rating: 2.3

and it was good (or poor-average)

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

Anthracks
January 23rd 2013


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

i never heard their previous material which probably allowed me to enjoy this for what it was. then
again i never let a band's preterit sound influence successive releases; which is all you ever hear
about when a band changes sound

tommygun
January 23rd 2013


25417 Comments


are my eyes broken or does that say 2.3?????

Jom
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


2712 Comments


I wonder if our friends at Metacritic are going to explode having to double the rating and move the decimal place over a spot or not.

Tyrael
January 23rd 2013


20974 Comments


'Album Rating: 2.3'

wat is this

tommygun
January 23rd 2013


25417 Comments


hey jom is that scale gonna be a thing for all user ratings or just reviews or just staff?

mindleviticus
January 23rd 2013


8331 Comments


what the hell

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


50960 Comments


jhfdsjkdsjhsdfksdfw what

Digging: Friendzone - Collection 1

CK
January 23rd 2013


4952 Comments


The rating is making laugh but is really hurting my mind just because of how unnatural it is. Please make it stop =[

Jom
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


2712 Comments


hey jom is that scale gonna be a thing for all user ratings or just reviews or just staff?


It's being beta tested for staff currently because the owner wants to make sure it won't affect site speed (effective today, staffers can pick their .1 increment from the Submit Review page; however, they have to use a bit of a back-channel method to retroactively re-rate previously-published albums. This is the case for different reasons, mostly for our credentialing).

I don't know how long the testing period will last, so the best answer I can give you right now is that it's possible that it'll expand for all users, but if I had to guess, it's going to be reserved for staffers only until the owner is confident that implementing the code won't bog down the site's speed (that's why the staffers, for already-published reviews, have to use a backwater approach to re-rating their reviews... if he changed too much all at once, he's concerned the site would experience more glitches -- something he's actively trying to eliminate this year).

Irving
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


7321 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

So wait Rudy, I've never listened to Ra Ra Riot before, but I take it that they attempted a departure in sound which ended up sucking?

(pardon my n00bness)

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


50960 Comments


Having extra .1 points is pretty arbitrary if you ask me

tommygun
January 23rd 2013


25417 Comments


ok cool thanks for explaining

Anthracks
January 23rd 2013


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

0.1 increments will open new doors for elitists

ps every criticism about this album seems focused more on the 'departure' part of "departure of
sound," where it should focus on the 'sound' part

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 23rd 2013


10583 Comments

Album Rating: 2.3

i don't mind a band changing their sound if the new sound isn't terrible, which i, subjectively, think it is here. i think i talked about the "sound" sufficiently

tommygun
January 23rd 2013


25417 Comments


nice review btw rudy mindpos

Anthracks
January 23rd 2013


3796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

i just think there is much worse synth pop out there. what i love most about this release is the energy. a lot of synth pop bands these days are trying to make the genre into this serious thing that's just not fitting (passion pit's premature existential crisis in gossamer), and this album is a refreshing return to the simplicity that made this genre so great

CK
January 23rd 2013


4952 Comments


So where exactly do the excellent, great, awful, etc. tags fall into play here?



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