Under Review: Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

If the pattern of recent album releases is any indication, it should take about two years for a band to follow up their debut.  So far, 2010 has seen releases from Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer and Delta Spirit, all of whom made their debuts not too long ago.  Add to that list Ra Ra Riot, who, like the aforementioned groups, have risen to indie fame on the strength of just one album.  With the release of The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot adds a whole bunch of great new songs to their repertoire without completely redefining their sound.  The trickiest part about any band’s second album is trying to make it distinctly different from their first while trying to recapture that indescribable magic.  Ra Ra Riot does this by brightening up the highlights.  While The Rhumb Line had its share of upbeat moments, the songs on The Orchard seem more exciting and energetic.  From the bouncy “Boy” to the slightly more pensive “Kansai,” The Orchard boasts a stronger pop sensibility than its predecessor.  Both “Too Dramatic” and “Shadowcasting” put leader Wes Miles’ vocals to the test, and he’s almost always certain to wow.  With so many impressive new songs to be found on The Orchard, it’s a shame that they have to share the same album space with nearly as many missteps.

The opening title track is a forgettable introduction, and the closing “Keep It Quiet” offers an equally unremarkable bookend.  Most regrettable is “You And I Know,” which is placed right in the middle of the new set.  The song features cellist Alexandra Lawn taking the lead vocal, a move that is one of the most ill-conceived in Ra Ra Riot’s short career.  With a frontman as charismatic as Wes, Lawn’s bored delivery brings the album to a halt after only 20 minutes.  The band is quick to recover, though, as The Orchard is very well paced.  For a young band like Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard is just the kind of album that’s best for them to release at this point.  In fact, it’s the epitome of what any group’s second album should be: it doesn’t eclipse their debut, it presents a whole batch of memorable tunes, and it reinforces their status as mainstays of their circles.  Despite its handful of lows, The Orchard turns out to be a fun and rewarding listen.  Better yet, it leaves plenty of room for improvement on the next album.

~ by E. on August 23, 2010.

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