Is it Too Much? Or Just Enough?

Abrahim Harb, Staff Writer

3.5 stars


Beta Love
Courtesy of The Rebel Group

Beta Love is Ra Ra Riot’s latest release under Barsuk Records and their first release since the departure of Cellist Alexandra Lawn in early 2012, leaving the group to create a sound without her assistance. The leap from baroque pop to electronic pop is apparent to those who follow the group. In fact, they do everything possible to keep listeners enthralled. The group consists of Wes Miles (lead singer and songwriter for most of the tracks), Mathieu Santos (bassist), Milo Bonacci (guitarist), and Rebecca Zeller (violinist).

The mish-mash of tracks on the album offers a perfect setting for the switch in sound. Pop music often offers no set formula or path, but it has a roundabout way of pulling at our heartstrings and winning over listeners. In comparison to the organic and minimalistic nature of  Ra Ra Riot’s other two albums, “The Rhumb Line” and “The Orchard,” this venture can very well can be seen as a sequel, but missing one of its key components—Lawn; the theme futuristic/electronic/synth, with an elaborate, glitzy sound.

The first track, “Dance With Me” is musically arranged by the group and Dennis Herring; he also arranged tracks number 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9. It starts off with a sound reminiscent of a synthesized carnival, as Miles carries the song with his solid vocals. “Binary Love” cleverly uses synthesizers and guitars to create a fast-paced song that leaves pop music lovers wanting more only after two tracks. It is written using the lead singer’s education in physics.

The next song, “Beta Love” is the first track to receive a music video treatment and was released as a digital download on before the release of the album, as well as “When I Dream.” Is It Too Much” has a smooth jazz feel, which seems out of place, but is nonetheless a great track that could very well be a remake of an old Ra Ra Riot song, using synthesized sound.

The falsetto provided at the beginning of “What I Do For U” makes the track a standout and the musical arrangement once again cleverly layered synthesized beats, sadly, it only last 1:44. “When I Dream” is terribly catchy and takes time to breathe, allowing listeners to sulk in the song, providing the first instance where the cello is not drown out by a synthesizer and guitar. This one definitely has potential to be a radio hit—and eventually be put on that list of overplayed, but still good songs.

“That Much” heavily relies on a drum and divulges into a track with layered vocals that is assumed to be some combo of Miles’, Bonacci’s, Santos’ and/or Zeller’s vocals. “Wilderness” is like a synth filled ballad that almost buries the crisp vocals Miles consistently provides with an additional unneeded layer of synth.

All 11 tracks have an energetic tone, with no reverb. The shift is certainly gutsy and the 30 minutes of music on the album induces a headache when heard in its entirety. Each song has its special qualities and this album should be taken on a song-to-song basis and none of the songs exceed a 3 minute mark. The group always produces simple tracks that are likeable and often hummable, making the shuffle in sound somewhat effortless, and giving it a mainstream edge. If you are acquainted to the old Ra Ra Riot sound, this album may not be for you; if you love strictly pop music, I recommend you buy this album. The album and other merchandise is available at or you can buy tickets and see the Syracuse based group at the Metro, in Chicago on March 1, 2013.