By Zachary Burton
With the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn, independent Syracuse band Ra Ra Riot was forced to venture into other venues to stay in the musical game, and its latest attempt at that is not much more than a flop. Because it is without those numerous string parts that have defined the band since its inception, its new album, “Beta Love,” hardly compares to previous works.
To begin, this record might as well have been by an entirely different band. Besides the cello lines, the noteworthy lyrics and soft-spoken singing of Wes Miles are also gone and is replaced by an entirely synthesized sound that is meant to shove as much pop down your throat as it can in three-minute segments.
Gone are lines like “oh ever, on every inch of stone, skin and bone, made to leave you,” replaced with incessant chorus of “I wanna be your toy, I wanna be your toy.” While Miles’ voice is still intact, it is now shoved through what one can only assume are countless effects based on its new touch, one that is a far cry from his once-strained airy signature sound. The track, “Is It Too Much,” almost feels like a tease, as the song begins with the unadulterated voice but is replaced soon after with auto-tuned layering and electronic drums.
Call me closed minded, but as soon as “Dance With Me,” the first track off the album, began, I was turned off. I felt I had turned on the Top 40 of some local airwave, not the critically acclaimed indie group outfit. Songs like title track “Beta Love” succeed in burrowing themselves into your head for a few days, merely memorable because of their skin deep melody but not because of their intricate layering of parts that initially drew me to Ra Ra Riot.
The track, “What I Do For U,” also stood out as a worthwhile track, as its juxtaposition of falsetto lyrics and thudding bass mesh well, but it is unfortunately too short to carry much weight of the rest of the record. The theme of brevity is one reoccurring on the album, as the songs that do breach three minutes are rare. This testifies to the new pop-jingle mindset Ra Ra Riot is reaching for, as many of its previous works easily surpassed the time mark.
Unfortunately, many of the songs fall into the formulaic verse-chorus-verse-chorus format — no real distinguishing factor that puts them above anything else you’d hear on at the club.
One can only hope Ra Ra Riot finds another genre to hop to with its next effort, as this one is too saturated for its brilliance.